Baldwin Escape Artist Ewaliko has Houdini-like Ability
By Rodney S. Yap
He has a very unique set of skills, nothing the Maui Interscholastic League has ever seen in 88 years of football.
Only Houdini could have escaped capture more often than Baldwin High School quarterback Keelan Ewaliko has, playing football the last three season in the MIL.
“He doesn’t go down easily,” said Barry Helle, the MIL’s play-by-play announcer on ESPN 550 radio, who has witnessed more football feats in the past 25 years on the Valley Isle than almost anybody. “He’s either going to make people miss or reduce their chances of getting a solid hit on him. No one has ever been able to get a good shot on him in the three years that I’ve watched him play. He just has something extra that allows him to avoid those type of things.”
A former state bull-riding champion and the current state 200-meter champion, Ewaliko’s ability to make plays and score touchdowns transcends the talents of former MIL greats, like Alika Fuentes of Maui High in the late ’80s, Ray Wilhelm or Hinano Kaumeheiwa of Baldwin in the early ’90s and ’60s, respectively. Simply put, Ewaliko has no peer when it comes to running the football, throwing the football and scoring touchdowns.
“Keelan Ewaliko ranks as one of the most multi-talented quarterbacks in the MIL over the past 20 years,” ESPN 550 radio commentator Fred Guzman said. “He’s a threat with his legs and with his arm, demonstrating tremendous growth as a passer. He’s shown major improvement in his accuracy as well as in his decision-making.
“Anyone who witnessed his game-winning scramble against Farrington in last year’s state tournament is not likely to forget the play,” Guzman added. “Ewaliko showed a bit of everything on that run – awareness, speed and tenacity.
“With all due respect to the Lunas, having a healthy Ewaliko back makes Saturday’s rematch a toss-up in my book,” Guzman said.
The rematch between Baldwin and Lahainaluna is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. Helle and Guzman will be calling the action from the War Memorial Stadium press box where they have had a front-row seat for more than 20 years.
The last time these two teams met, Sept. 7, the Lunas rolled over the Bears, 32-0. It was the most lopsided victory and defeat for either team since the state adopted a true championship tournament in 1999.
Ewaliko, however, did not play in that first game as he was nursing a rib injury. He returned to the playing field a couple weeks later and has engineered the team’s last three wins, accounting for 14 touchdowns — seven rushing and seven passing — while averaging an unprecedented 232 yards in total offense per game.
“For us to come out and beat them in that first game, that was good,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson said. “But they did not have their whole team. Now we are playing Baldwin at its best.”
The Baldwin faithful hopes Ewaliko’s return will level the odds against them and help the Bears’ return to the championship form it enjoyed the last two years. Ewaliko is the
two-time reigning MIL Offensive Player of the Year.
“We can go back to the play against Farrington last year,” said Helle.
On third-and-14, with time winding down on Baldwin’s season, Ewaliko
scored off a broken play, literally willing himself into the end zone from 33 yards away and only 42 seconds left in the game. A War Memorial Stadium crowd of about 3,000, and a live television audience on OC16, watched Ewaliko keep his feet long enough to extend the play into the end zone. It was a Kodak moment.
“It was supposed to be a pass and I was rolling out to my left looking for (wide receiver) Brandon (Fernandez),” Ewaliko told a Honolulu newspaper after the game. “When he wasn’t open, I
knew I had to take off. I broke one tackle and told myself, ‘This is it. We’ve come too far. I can’t let my boys down. I gotta get in the end zone.’ ”
“How many times did he get hit on that play and he never went down, he just has this ability to maintain his balance,” Helle said. “There are a lot of times when you see him make cuts, where other guys would go down. He just has this uncanny ability to extend the play and pick up those extra yards. He
always seems to manage to keep himself upright and keep on going.”
Although he no longer goes to many MIL football games, former Maui High head coach Curtis Lee remembers watching Ewaliko score the winning touchdown against Farrington on television from his home in Pukalani.
“Alika (Fuentes) was that type of player. He would make things happen. He just had that determination that you can’t beat me, and it didn’t matter what he needed. Whatever it was, a first down, a touchdown, whatever, he was going to get it — just like this kid from Baldwin. He has that determination that ‘You can’t beat me.’ ”
In addition to exceptional balance, Lee said, “All of the great runners we had at Maui High were like that.”
In Lee’s 21 years at Maui High, a Saber running back won the league’s rushing title 15 times. Lee, himself a good running back with the Sabers in 1965 and then with Kansas State, said vision is the key to success for a runner.
“I could see from the corner of my eye if someone was coming. My wife would always ask me, ‘How do they know to make a cut right as they are about to be tackled, and how do they always make the right cut?’ It’s part sensing, part seeing shadows when someone is coming.”
“He’s obviously a very gifted athlete,” Helle said of the 6-foot, 180-pound Ewaliko. “And when you add his size, than I think we are seeing something we’ve never seen in a generation. Alika was definitely good and an outstanding player but how tall was Alika, 5-8. Keelan can do so many different things and he’s right at 6-feet tall. I think he’s size translates to strength, too.”
Even Ewaliko’s mother, Aleina Baisa, who has seen everything he’s done, can not believe her eyes.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “I really didn’t expect that out of him. But I don’t want people to think that I think my son is all that. What I try to do is keep him humble. I want him to stay grounded and to appreciate where he came from and never take things for granted . . . because things like an injury could take you down as fast as you’ve been able to accomplish all the things that he has.
“So for me as his mom, sometimes, I’m like ‘Wow, that’s my kid, that’s my son, and I can’t believe he’s been able to accomplish all the things that he has in such a short period of time. Ultimately, we have a strong faith in God and our church, Word of Life. But I work on keeping him grounded and make sure that he appreciates playing at this high level. To be a great athlete on the field, you have to really be present off the field as well.”