PHOTO: Punahou defensive end Kekai Burnett (9) breaks on the snap of the ball while St. Louis offensive tackleRustin Young (73) back pedals into pass protection. The two friends from rival Honolulu high schools met while working out in the offseason at a football training gym. Now, they’re teammates riding Duffy Daugherty’s re-tapped Hawaiian Pipeline to Michigan State.
By TOM SHANAHAN
This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.
Michigan State’s two football recruits from Hawaii, Kekai Burnett and Rustin Young, know more about the Spartans’ new head coach, Jonathan Smith, than Michigan State’s fans and returning players, while at the same time the Spartans’ fans – well, at least the older ones – know more about Duffy Daugherty’s Hawaiian Pipeline than the two incoming recruits from Honolulu high schools.
First, on knowing Smith.
Burnett, a defensive end from Punahou School, and Young, an offensive lineman from St. Louis School, met Smith last spring when Smith was Oregon State’s head coach. Smith, offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa scouted them at a Hawaii football camp.
“He’s more than a football coach,” said Burnett, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound 3-star prospect. “He’s a great guy – easy to talk to, a humble guy. He pushes his players to be their best. He’s already changed one program, and he can definitely do it again.”
After Smith landed the Michigan State job on November 25 (with Michalczik and Suiaunoa following him to East Lansing), the 45-year-old coach re-recruited Burnett and Young to join him to East Lansing. The pair made a 4,409-mile recruiting trip from Honolulu to Michigan State the weekend of December 15. They liked the campus, the facilities and the community spirit they saw in the “Go Green, Go White” signs at businesses. They signed their letter-of-intent on the first day of the early signing period, December 20.
Next, on the Hawaiian Pipeline.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Young, a 6-5, 270-pounder rated a 3-star with some 4-star rankings. “But when I told my dad (Ronald) about Coach Smith going to Michigan State and recruiting me, he told me what he had heard about the Hawaiian Pipeline when he was younger.”
Raye of Light, Chapter 14, Page 174, Michigan State’s 11 Hawaiian Pipeliners.
It’s not their fault they don’t know a unique slice of college football history that included many Hawaii fans adopting Michigan State as their team in the 1960s, an era before the University of Hawaii elevated its football program to Division I in 1974. Michigan State’s younger fans also need to learn the history as well as younger Hawaiians. Their parents and grandparents can tell them.
Blame Michigan State’s successors to Daugherty – Muddy Waters excepted – who abandoned the unique foothold Daugherty established in Hawaii in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
So, before Burnett and Young arrive at Michigan State to join the original 11 as the 12th and 13th Hawaiian Pipeline players, here’s a crash course.
Of those 11, Burnett is following three Punahou alums, Charlie Wedemeyer, 1965-68; Charles “Kale” Ane, 1971-74; and Arnold Morgado, 1971-72. Young is following two St. Louis alums, Jim Nicholson, 1969-72, and Doug Won, 1971-72.
Ane, Morgado and Nicholson played in the NFL, while Wedemeyer is in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
Wedemeyer was stricken with Lou Gehrig’s Disease while coaching high school football in Los Gatos, California. He continued to coach, and his life story was told in a 1988 made-for-TV movie, “Quiet Victory: The Charlie Wedemeyer Story” and PBS documentary, “One More Season.”
The last of the 11 was Carter Kamana, a defensive back who was recruited by Waters in 1980 out of Kamehameha School. Ane and Kamana, who returned home after their playing days, had been saying for years they were willing to help Michigan State coaches recruit Hawaii if they wanted to return. All they had to do was ask.
College Football Hall of Fame coach Barry Switzer of Oklahoma has praised Daugherty for his Hawaiian Pipeline as well as leading college football integration with his Underground Railroad that recruited the segregated South. The talent pool of Polynesians and Samoans Daugherty tapped when Hawaii was a sleepy outpost for talent has flowed into all levels of football.
I quoted Switzer in Chapter 1 of “THE RIGHT THING TO DO, The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s.”
“Duffy did more for integration than any other coach in college football. He had players from all over the South. There were great Black players in the state of Texas that were passing over Oklahoma to play for Duffy. He had all those players from Houston area. And Duffy also was the first one to recruit Samoan players.”
Daugherty recruited 10 players from Hawaii between the 1954 and 1971 freshmen classes. His connection was his friendship with Tommy Kaululukui Sr., Hawaii’s legendary coach and athlete who is in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Kaulukukui apprised Daugherty of talent he thought could play in the Big Ten, and Daugherty trusted his judgment.
Bob Apisa of Honolulu Farrington was the most prominent of the Hawaiian Pipeliners as the college football’s first Samoan All-American player on the 1965 and 1966 national title teams. When Michigan State played Notre Dame in the 1966 Game of the Century, the Spartans featured Apisa and two other Hawaii recruits, barefoot kicker/punter Dick Kenney, who was Irish/Samoan from Honolulu Iolani, and all-around athlete Wedemeyer, German/Hawaiian.
The 1966 Game of the Century was the first live broadcast of a football game in Hawaii thanks to new space-age technology with satellites.
Apisa, a Polynesian Football Hall of Famer, is considered the godfather of Samoan and Polynesian players. That’s the opinion of fellow Polynesian Hall of Famer Ken Niumatalolo, the first Samoan Division I head coach at Navy (2007-22) who was recently named San Jose State’s new head coach.
“I see Bob Apisa as not only a trailblazer for Samoan and Polynesian players but for coaches as well,” he told me for a quote in RAYE OF LIGHT, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the Integration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. “You have to be player before you’re a coach. There are a lot of Samoans and Polynesians coaching now. Bob was a pioneer who opened doors for us.”
Niumatalolo, an alumnus of Radford High in Honolulu and the University of Hawaii, added, “Everybody I grew up with knew about Bob Apisa. He went to the mainland and was first one to make a name for himself. I don’t know if the younger kids these days still know about Bob Apisa, but they should.”
When Apisa learned Burnett and Young committed to re-tap Duffy’s Pipeline, he said he did backflips. That’s an exaggeration for a 78-year-old body battered from football knee injuries and a Hollywood career as a stunt man and actor, but it’s an accurate measure of his pride.
Burnett and Young, despite playing for rival high schools, have been friends since the summer before their junior year. They met at Ikaika Athletics, a gym that specializes in training football players. They gained respect for each other when paired up.
“Our competition would go back and forth,” Young said.
Added Burnett, “We’re both similar – quiet people. We don’t talk much. We keep a lot of things to ourselves.”
And now they’re sharing a journey aboard Duffy Daugherty’s re-tapped Hawaiian Pipeline.
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My books tell the true story of college football integration in the 1960s and address the myths and fiction that allowed a false narrative surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game to usurp the credit from the true pioneers. As I said when I spoke at the National Sports Media Association book festival, no two books provide an accurate portrayal more than RAYE OF LIGHT and THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
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Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read the summary as a first-place story.
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THE RIGHT THING TO DO
The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s
Foreword by Ruffin McNeill
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RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
Foreword by Tony Dungy
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