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He's never been to the South. But La Mirada (Calif.) outside linebacker Koa Kaleopaa is hoping his trip to Atlanta for the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge will bring some famous Southern hospitality.
A year after moving to California from Hawaii, Kaleopaa is still missing his homeland and the stereotypical southern warmth will make the cross-country trip a success.
"People in California do not welcome you with open arms," he said. "We moved a little over a year ago and it has been hard in that respect.
"It may just be that it is so much bigger, but I feel like I don't know anyone and in Hawaii, no matter where you went, you would see someone you knew and it was comfortable."
From June 22-24 at Lakewood Stadium, he will be in a community of 100 of the best football players from across the country. The 6-foot-3, three-star player is hoping that he can be with people who understand his situation.
"I am looking forward to going there," he said. "It will be good to be around a lot of guys who are going through this process and (who I) have some common ground with.
"Also, recruiting-wise, Atlanta will give me a feel of the culture in the South and the weather. I am getting some looks from that area of the country, so it will be good for me to see."
Southeastern Conference programs Arkansas and Ole Miss have offered him, as have Pac-12 members Arizona, California, and Colorado.
Kaleopaa, who played at Honolulu (Hawaii) Kamehameha School, wants to fit in, no matter the location.
Being of Hawaiian-, Samoan-, Cuban-, and Moai-descent often can make that complicated.
"People in Hawaii were all 100 percent Hawaiian if you asked them," he said. "Some would be totally Japanese but they would say they are Hawaiian and it was very inclusive.
"The community feel is something that is important to me."
Kaleopaa is hoping that football will bridge the gap. But he is often lining up at multiple positions and, as is the case off the field, he has not found a home.
"I can play defensive end or linebacker," he said. "I am not big-headed and wherever I am asked to play I will work my hardest to get better at. I think I have strengths for both areas, so that gives me a good base.
"If I am playing linebacker, I am strong enough to go up against tight ends because they like to get physical, but I am also fast enough to contain running backs. At defensive end, I am probably quicker off the ball than a lot of the bigger guys, so I can work a move faster even if I am not as powerful as the normal-sized guys are."
Without a true position the invitation to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge came as a bit of a surprise to Kaleopaa.
"I have been moving up the boards quick," he said. "When my coach told me I got this invitation, I was surprised. I expect myself to go and give it all I have. I will be preparing to be my best and I hope that is good enough."
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If he falls short of his personal goals at the event, he will be targeting improvement when he gets back to California. After all, he has far fewer options in La Mirada than he did in Hawaii.
"I would be on the beach every day back home," Kaleopaa said. "I was five minutes (away) walking. So we would body-board, and boogie-board, all that. Now (it is) a 30-minute drive. I have more time for football. So I guess that is helping me."
Mike Farrell's take
Kaleopaa will be working out as a defensive lineman at the event and that appears to be his future because he's so big. It's hard for 6-3, 250-pounders in high school to remain linebackers. He could be overmatched a bit at first, so it will be interesting to gauge how he adjusts. We know work ethic and motor won't be a question and he will have something to prove as one of the few three stars invited to the event.
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