Uncle Tommy Heffernan was always at the Kahuku football facility.
The Red Raiders star quarterback in the late ’60s most recently served as the associate head coach and head of operations this year.
But really, he did anything and everything that needed to be done with vigorous attention to detail, from mowing to cleaning to locking up the school at the end of every night.
He was a constant for the Red Raider football players, always there. Now, he isn’t.
“He was the OG. He was always there, every day. He was the first one here and the last one to leave,” said Sterling Carvalho, Red Raiders head coach.
In the Kahuku locker room, the walls are adorned with photos and memorabilia unlike any other high school, one of many lasting marks left by Heffernan.
The flu had been going around the tight-knit Kahuku community.
“I was on my way to work. I had just seen him on Saturday, and I could tell everything was normal, because he was his old self, like ‘Okay, I’m good. Get the hell out of here. You guys go home.’ I’m glad I got a chance to talk to him. That was the last time,” said his son, Tommy Heffernan Jr.
A week ago Tuesday, Uncle Tommy died of a heart attack, the same day he was supposed to be released from the hospital.
“Tuesday was rough. It was really rough for everyone, because my papa was everyone’s papa. They all look at him as their own grandpa,” said grandson and Kahuku senior Duke Heffernan.
“That very day, we wasn’t really going to have practice. But from the time we left the hospital and came here, his family was here. His sons, his grandsons, his kids, was all here mowing the lawn, getting the field ready, cleaning the locker room, making sure we had everything ready, so how could we not honor that for Uncle Tommy,” said Carvalho.
“I made sure that everyone practiced that day, because, knowing him, he would make sure that everyone got their butts on the field, suited up and practiced, and got ready for Kapolei,” said Duke Heffernan.
They were ready for Kapolei, and before the game, the community honored the man they all knew.
“I was very nervous at first, because I knew it was going to be a lot of emotions. Coming out here and seeing the tributes to Dad and not having him here for the first time, that was really sad at first, but I thought it was awesome that the school and administration and players took time to pay tribute to him. A lot of the boys, they missed him,” said Tommy Heffernan Jr.
It was a chicken skin night as the Red Raider fans saw Duke Heffernan score two touchdowns for his grandpa.
“All I could remember everyone saying is that you made your papa proud. That’s pretty much what everyone said and they all gave me hugs. No one really said much. We were all on the same page,” Duke Heffernan said.
“If he’s going to commit to something or do something, he does it 100 percent,” said Tommy Heffernan Jr.
“He was everything that every young man and woman would look up to, and that’s why we miss him so much,” Carvalho said.
“Now we had more of a purpose than just we want to win states. We’ve got to do this for Uncle Tommy. Everything we do, we do it for Uncle Tommy,” said linebacker Tausili Fiatoa.