Maui Sports

Vanderbilt, Hawaii Offer Maui High Linebacker Feleti Afemui

April 29, 2016, 9:04 AM HST
* Updated May 3, 11:03 PM
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Maui High's Feleti Afemui makes a huge tackle behind the line of scrimmage against Baldwin last year. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

Maui High’s Feleti Afemui makes a huge tackle behind the line of scrimmage against Baldwin last year. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

By Rodney S. Yap

With his senior season more than four months away, Feleti Afemui is feeling blessed.

That’s because Afemui, the Maui High School football player, is beginning to reap the rewards from his academic prowess that has him ranked No. 1 amongst classmates graduating in 2017.

Afemui is a Maui Interscholastic League’s returning first-team all-star linebacker who has been atop of his class ranking since arriving to the Lono Avenue campus in Kahului as one of 536 freshmen three years ago. The conversations regarding Afemui’s future will continue to be about his abilities in the classroom and on the field.

Over the last month, Afemui’s stock has been climbing — especially because of his stellar grade point average — stirring up interest from here to the East Coast.

Two schools were so excited about meeting the Kihei resident, their coaches flew to Maui to see him in person and the face-to-face meetings solidified his first two official offers via Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn, and from the University of Hawaii.

The Vanderbilt Commodores’ defensive line coach CJ Ah You also secured Afemui’s transcripts, which the school formally requested earlier this month. The coach/recruiter liked what he saw in Afemui and did not hesitate to pull the trigger, making it official on 247 Vandy Sports on April 18.

Vanderbilt, under third-year coach Derek Mason, successfully transitioned from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 last year en route to a 4-6 record. The Commodores have made 30 other offers since Afemui’s.

Coach Halakilangi Frank Muagututi’a and Vanderbilt's defensive line coach C.J. Ah You. Photo by Halakilangi Frank Muagututi’a.

Coach Halakilangi Frank Muagututi’a and Vanderbilt’s defensive line coach C.J. Ah You. Photo by Halakilangi Frank Muagututi’a.

“Yeah, we’ve had a lot of recruiters come to the school,” said second-year Maui High head football coach Keith Shirota. “A UH coach (Craig Stutzmann) was here and he talked to Feleti. I know they offered him a scholarship.”

“He deserves everything he’s getting right now,” Shirota said. “He works hard in the class room and he works hard with us, he’s very committed and he deserves it.

“He’s a legit 6-3 and the last time I weighed him he was 225. I know Vanderbilt was looking at him as an outside linebacker, but they are considering playing him at inside linebacker, too. They expect him to put on more weight in college and I pretty sure UH is looking to play him at linebacker, too.

This time next year, Afemui may be preparing to deliver the valedictory at the Sabers’ graduation.

“No. 1 is he’s a really good student and has a 4.0 GPA,” the coach added. “He’s a very consistent performer. He is a smart kid, he plays assignment football. He’s talented and he’s athletic, plus he’s also smart and does what he supposed to do. He’s very coach-able.”

Shirota said the team recently did some “combine-type” testing at the school.

Maui High junior linebacker Feleti Afemui (17) against Lahainaluna last year. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

Maui High junior linebacker Feleti Afemui (17) against Lahainaluna last year. Photo by Rodney S. Yap.

“He’s in the 4.8, 4.9 range in the 40-yard dash. He ran a 4.4, 4.5 in the pro shuttle. We did our strength testing last week and he did a 295 pound bench press. He missed the squat day because his grandmother passed away, but he did do a 245-pound power clean.”

Shirota said the person really responsible for Afemui’s success is former collegiate player and coach Halakilangi Frank Muagututi’a, who moved here from the Bay Area last summer, with his wife, Lenora Hay-Muagututi’a, Hawaiian Airlines’ new assistant station manager at Kahului Airport.

Polynesian Triangle Foundation & Training was founded over three years ago with a single goal, and that is to assist any and all student athletes willing to put in consistent hard work, dedication and effort into to their own education and athletic training to obtain higher education and athletic goals,” said Muagututi’a, who coached for 12 years at Diablo Valley College, Chabot College and UTEP.

“When I found out that Afemui had good grades and I told myself, ‘Darn, how can I help this kid,’ “

“He came out once and then just kept coming and never missed a workout. He started training on his own and doing his own ladders and stuff on weekends, so I knew he was a hard worker.”

Maui High coach Lono Kaina met Oregon assistant head coach Steve Greatwood in December as the Ducks prepared to play in their bowl game. The two originally became friends when Kaina attended a coaches clinic in Eugene, Ore., over the summer.

Greenwood eventually managed to come to Maui after scheduling a recruiting trip to Oahu.

“That’s when we took a picture of Feleti with the Oregon coach and it just blew up on social media.”

Feleti Afemui at the 7-on-7 competition in Las Vegas earlier this year. Photo by Halakilangi Frank Muagututi’a.

Feleti Afemui at the 7-on-7 competition in Las Vegas earlier this year. Photo by Halakilangi Frank Muagututi’a.

Muagututi’a took advantage of the initial hype and continued to post videos and photos on his Instagram account of Afemui working out.

Building interest wasn’t a problem with as many college coaches and recruiters following Muagututi’a.

Ah You was the defensive coordinator at UTEP when Muagututi’a was there as a graduate assistant. Hawaii’s Stutzmann and BYU’s Reno Mahe are also close friends and former co-workers.

“I’m just trying too help,” Muagututi’a said. “I’ve helped a lot of Polynesian players and the conversation is usually about the SAT test and how they are going to have to have a high SAT score to offset their weak grade-point average. I’ve never helped someone who was a 4.0 student. Wow, this is awesome. Imagine if he can show some kind of ability.”

In addition to the college coaching carousel, Muagututi’a has played in the XFL, the CFL and the NFL, and has professional football contacts as well.

“So the next thing was getting Feleti to make a highlight video. They liked him from the few plays they saw on that short highlight video he made, but they kept asking for more video. Then they said we need to see him in person.”

Muagutut’ia kept texting his coaching contacts and friends about Afemui, then in February he invited them to see him play at a 7-on-7 competition in Las Vegas, followed by trips to UCLA and USC.

Word about Afemui continues to build as Arizona State confirmed with Muagutut’ia that it will be here at the end of May. Washington State, UCLA, Utah and former Baldwin coach Jimmy Morimoto of Fresno State are also making plans to come and see Afemui.

“As long as they get a degree so they can help their families is great. That’s what I love most about doing what I do. That’s really where I get my excitement from, when they do that. Than to see them help their community and help their family is wonderful.

“I’m just so happy for Feleti. He did the hard part. The kid deserves something for his academics and if he can show that he can play than we have to help him. And I’m just blessed to have coached at the JC and Division I levels.”


For more on “Coach Hala” and the Polynesian Triangle Foundation Training go to the website at or Facebook page at


EDITOR’S NOTE: The NCAA recently released its latest round of Academic Progress Rate (APR) data, which reports graduation rates at athletic programs across the nation. With a score of 990, Vanderbilt ranks fifth among FBS programs. The Commodores trail only Duke, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in football’s highest tier.


For Feleti Afemui’s profile and highlight videos, go to:

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