After making the most of limited opportunities in 2020, Hawaii’s Koali Nishigaya relishes ‘underdog’ role for the Rainbow Warriors


Hawaii’s Koali Nishigaya (27) reacts after scoring a touchdown against UNLV in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

When the University of Hawaii football team opens the 2021 season on August 28 at UCLA, the Rainbow Warriors will be looking to make a statement as the underdog at the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium.

For second year freshman slot back Koali Noshigaya, being the underdog is a role that he has embraced ever since he first put on a pair of cleats as a child.

The Saint Louis graduate, who walked-on to the UH program following a prolific career with the Crusaders made an impact on the 2020 season in a limited role and continues to impress on the practice field ahead of the 2021 season.

“No doubt, I think it’s just being consistent. Just keep making those plays and just being dependable,” Nishigaya told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello. “The coaches always say just be dependable and just always be ready for your opportunity.”

Nishigaya, who anticipates entering the season as a reserve receiver and kick returner, scored on an 85 yard touchdown in Hawaii’s final scrimmage of training camp this past Saturday, leading one of his teammates to shout out ‘that man can fly’ during Nishigaya’s media availability following Monday’s practice.

“It’s the same mentality since high school. I’ve always been the underdog, so I just try to come out here and work and just prove myself,” said Nishigaya.

As a true freshman a season ago, the former Cover2 Kaulukukui Award finalist for Hawaii prep offensive player of the year played in three games, catching two passes for 36 yards, including a 26-yard catch versus San Jose State, In UH’s final game played at Aloha Stadium, Nishigaya scored a four-yard touchdown on his first career rushing attempt.

“We know what kind of heart and character that he has and he’s just got to keep competing to get to play. Competing to get reps and opportunities, but the thing that I like about Koali when he has gotten opportunities is he’s done something with it. I think he got one of them called back but he scored two touchdowns and touched the ball three or four times,” said head coach Todd Graham. “He’s a guy that epitomizes what we’re about. He’s an unselfish guy. He just wants an opportunity, when you get an opportunity to get on that field you gotta make something happen.”

With returning receivers Calvin Turner Jr, Jared Smart, Nick Mardner, Aaron Cephus and Jonah Panoke to name a few along with newcomers Tru Edwards and Jalen Walthall competing for targets this season, Nishigaya will once again need to force his way onto the field but according to the Honolulu native, he welcomes that challenge with open arms as he finds inspiration in representing his home state.

“It’s a great honor to wear the green and just represent the state of Hawai’i and just making a statement for the 808 and just proving that we can compete against the best in the world.”

The Rainbow Warriors will open the season on August 28 at UCLA. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:30am HST on ESPN.

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