(Photo courtesy of Hawaii Athletics)

By the time signing day had arrived, I had made peace with the fact I wasn’t going to a Division 1 school.

Of course, I wasn’t heading to a D2 or D3 school either. I was heading off to junior college. Or at least that was the plan until my phone began to ring.

At 3 a.m.

I was actually still up, working on a school project, and I decided to pick up the phone. On the other end was Nick Rolovich, the head coach here at Hawaii. But he wasn’t calling with a scholarship offer. He was calling me to let me know he was thinking about it.

“I’m not sure if I want to offer you yet,” he told me. “I’ll call you back.”

I started freaking out. I had been chasing after this dream for years, going from one game and one camp to another looking for a shot, and now it was finally within reach. It was halfway across the Pacific Ocean, and I didn’t even know their record from the previous year, but I didn’t care.

If Nick was going to take a chance on me, I was going to take a chance on him.

So the phone rang a second time. And then a third. Each time he called just to tell me he’s watching my film one more time before hanging up. It almost felt like a mental game, like he wanted to see how I would handle the anxiety.

He must have liked what he heard - or what he saw - because on the fourth call he let me know that he was offering me a scholarship.

I was going to be a Warrior.

 
McDonald_Run_G1_Navy.jpg
 

(Photo courtesy of Hawaii Athletics)

When I committed I felt like it wasn’t just Nick taking a chance on me. It felt like the entire state was taking a chance on me too. And whether they lived on the Big Island or the North Shore or here on campus, I wanted to show them that I didn’t take the scholarship for granted.

When people talk about the Aloha Spirit, it’s real. It might sound like a cliche from the outside, but when you live here and you see how much people embrace you, it’s incredible. In Southern California we have 9 pro sports teams and two Pac-12 schools, but in Hawaii, this is it. We’re their team. And when you play here, you quickly realize it.

Whether I’m at the grocery store, or just at the drive-thru at Zippy’s, people recognize me. They tell me how excited they are about the team, and how happy they are for me. The relationship between our team and this state is close, but that dynamic was taken to a whole different level last year. It wasn’t just because we won 8 games...it was because the people here suffered through not just one but two natural disasters.

But as only God can, He took a horrible situation and used it to bring us closer together.

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Thomas Hager