Hau’oli Kikaha was a little worried that all the cameras and all the visitors might be intrusive to the young cancer patients. But during his visit Wednesday to the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Hau’oli Kikaha found the young patients enjoying the company.
Kikaha, too, is learning to enjoy the spotlight a bit more.
The Huskies’ senior defensive end was visiting patients as part of a trip with folks from the Rotary Club of Houston, who host the Lombardi Trophy award, for which Kikaha was a finalist.
“The best thing about it was being able to go to the Anderson Center and the Texas Children’s Hospital,” he said. “They said the Lombardi was this was one of only awards to do that … and all the funds (they raise) get put back into cancer research. So I was excited about that.”
He wanted the visits to be more than a publicity stunt, and he believes they were.
“I enjoy the charity piece of it,” he said. “There are these innocent children wanting to be around us and wanting to learn from us and stuff like that, and it’s pretty cool.”
Kikaha, accompanied by UW sports information director Jeff Bechthold, flew back in Seattle on Thursday. He’ll work out with teammates for the next couple days, then fly to Southern California on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s Lott IMPACT Trophy ceremony.
Wearing a rented suit with a purple-and-gold tie, Kikaha attended his first major awards ceremony Wednesday night in Houston. Arizona’s Scooby Wright ended up winning the Lombardi, but Kikaha enjoyed the experience.
“I had a nice stumble during my interview deal,” he said. “But other than that, it was pretty cool, pretty amazing. …
“I do enjoy it. Not so much the spotlight, but because what I can do because people want to hear what I have to say. There’s some pressure (with that) … but I think I can make an impact because of my position on this big stage. I’m finally realizing that people want to hear what I have to say. By shying away from it, I’m not helping anyone. So why not try to help?”
His mom, Dawn, and his oldest brother, Kahiapo, had flown out from Hawaii to attend the ceremony in Houston.
“She was really excited about the whole event. It was special to her,” Kikaha said.
Kikaha was fourth string on UW’s depth chart in August 2013. I remember then-UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox saying he didn’t know what to expect, if anything, from Kikaha, who was coming off two ACL tears in two years. He returned to the field with a new name and a new number, and two seasons later the Huskies have a new player atop the school’s all-time sacks leaderboard.
With one game left in his UW career, against Oklahoma State in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl on Jan. 2, he already has school records for career sacks (35.0), single-season sacks (18.0) and tackles for loss (24.0).
On Wednesday, he was named a first-team all-American by CBS Sports Network.
“Cool stuff,” he said.
UPDATE: Kikaha has also been named to the Walter Camp All-America first team as a linebacker, with Danny Shelton earning second-team honors. The Walter Camp is considered one of the five main all-America teams recognized by the NCAA, along with The Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America and the Sporting News.