Despite having more on his plate than his University of Hawaii teammates, redshirt freshman receiver Jonah Panoke remains thankful.
On top of learning a new and evolving playbook under first-year head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator GJ Kinne, Panoke is pursuing an undergraduate degree. All the while, Panoke and his fiancé, Emma-Lei, are raising two boys, Ezekiel-Reign and Kysen-Taylor.
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“A big help is my mom and my fiancé’s mom, they help with the kids while I have school in the day and then my fiancé works during the day,” Panoke said in a virtual media session on Wednesday. “I probably go to sleep like 11, 12 and that’s when the coaches send out the play scripts and I’ll study that after they go to sleep.
“It’s definitely challenging but being a father is the best thing to do. Coming home and looking forward to playing with your kids, it’s all worth it.”
Entering his senior season of high school ball at Saint Louis in 2017, Panoke did not have any scholarship offers. But after an impressive showing at the University of Hawaii Elite Camp, Panoke and teammate Kai Kaneshiro both earned offers from UH and committed. Along with quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, the trio set the tone for the 2018 recruiting class. Hawaii did not sign any in-state high schoolers to scholarships in its 2017 class.
Cordeiro and Panoke were the backbone of a Saint Louis offense that led the Crusaders to a 10-0 season in 2017. Both were also named first-team All-State selections. The friendship between the duo goes way back.
“I think I knew him since I was in the second grade. Started off in Pop Warner. We played for the Kalani Falcons. It’s nice to have him back on the field and be back with him,” said Panoke, who noted that Cordeiro’s father, Leon, was the offensive coordinator of the team. “Not much people can say they played with their quarterback from Pop Warner to high school and now at the college level.”
Just how close are Cordeiro and Panoke? When Kysen-Taylor was born in March 2019, Panoke asked Cordeiro to be his godfather.
“I feel comfortable being out there with Chev. That friendship for all those years, I feel comfortable talking to him about what I see on the field and he’s comfortable talking to everybody on the field, what he sees and what he thinks works,” Panoke said. “I trust him off the field as well. He’s my youngest son’s godfather too so I know he’s a good leader on and off the field.”
Although Cordeiro and Kaneshiro enrolled at UH in the fall of 2018, Panoke was grayshirted and did not join the program until the 2019 spring semester. Panoke played in three games during the 2019 season but didn’t catch his first pass until Nov. 14’s game at San Diego State. Then last Saturday, he caught five passes for 30 yards in a loss against Boise State.
Despite taking a big hit on the quad from Boise State defensive back Kekaula Kaniho, Panoke toughed it out and entered the game again. That spirit has caught the eye of both Graham and Kinne, who have praised Panoke’s work ethic throughout the season.
“I really like it,” Panoke said of his increased role in the offense. “I didn’t play too much at the beginning of the season. Just came out and kept practicing hard every day, trusted the coaches and what they’ve been coaching to us. The new plays, the different offenses we’ve been doing. I’m stoked to be out there and the field and finally get some playing time.”
Thanksgiving will come and go quickly, but Panoke says he’ll continue to express gratitude towards the support system that keeps him going every day.
“Grateful for everything in my life,” he said. “My family, coaches, my fiancé, my kids. Just everyone around supporting each other and just be thankful for what we have in life.”