As the University of Hawaii football program continues its efforts to flush the Todd Graham era and immerse itself in the cultural changes carefully wrought by new head coach Timmy Chang and his staff, it’ll do so with a generally young roster that kicks off its 2022 season against Vanderbilt on Aug. 27.
Chang’s first full roster includes 53 newcomers, as well as a mix of players recruited by Graham and former Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich. Established veterans such as linebacker Penei Pavihi and offensive linemen Ilm Manning and Micah Vanterpool were signed by Rolovich, while starting running back Dedrick Parson and defensive back Hugh Nelson II are among Graham’s notable signees.
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In Chang’s first roster, there’s one outlier as far as age is concerned: Kamuela “Kamu” Borden, the lone connective tissue that links the 2022 team all the way back to the Norm Chow era.
A three-year standout left tackle at ‘Iolani, Borden was a member of Chow’s final UH signing class in February 2015.
“It feels like forever (ago),” Borden recalled. “I don’t remember a whole bunch of specifics. I know the team was completely different. I was in the same recruiting class as Solomon Matautia. Jahlani Tavai was still on the team, so many guys that have been long gone. Great players. It’s kind of funny because coach Rolo tried to recruit me out of high school when he was at Nevada but I told him I like stay home.”
After graduating high school, Borden went on a two-year mission around the Eugene, Ore. area. Besides the initial homesickness, Borden believes he grew tremendously as a person, citing the mission for giving him the maturity to enter marriage with his wife, Pi’ilani.
Chow, the coach who signed Borden, was fired after UH’s 2-7 to the 2015 season, including a 58-7 home loss to Air Force the night before his dismissal.
Upon returning from his mission, Borden wasn’t sure if his scholarship would be honored. His first conversation with Rolovich, whom UH hired in November 2015, laid the foundation for his college career.
“He told me he remembered I told him I wanted to stay home,” Borden recalled of the encounter. “He knew that I would do my best to fit in here and represent our state and island.”
Borden didn’t rejoin the program until 2018, but his impact was noticed immediately. After the season, he was the recipient of the team’s Coach Larry Price Most Unselfish Warrior award after appearing in six games on special teams.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he won that award because he’s an unselfish type of guy that understands his role and understands the team needs guys that are role players,” Chang said. “Everybody has a job to do and he’s no different. He adds value to this team. A lot of value. We’re appreciative that he’s here, we’re appreciative that he keeps working hard every day. His leadership, his work ethic and his demeanor is something a lot of young guys can look to.”
After redshirting in 2019, Borden did not appear in any games in 2020. In 2021, he played in 12 games, seeing action at tight end and on special teams. He has one reception to his name, which went for 10 yards at Nevada in 2021, but has earned All-Mountain West academic honors three times, as well as UH’s Scholar-Athlete award in 2019.
In suiting up for Hawaii, Borden follows the footsteps of his older brothers Kawika (on the UH roster from 2011 to 2013) and Noah (2015 to 2018). Kawika and Noah Borden both worked their way towards starting long snapper roles, although Kawika also saw time as a defensive back. Each are admired in UH football circles for being selfless teammates. To Kamu, his path to UH was paved by his brothers before him.
“I’m just truly grateful for them. I feel like I wouldn’t have had as many opportunities that I’ve had without them. Even though they played defense their whole life and none of the coaches that brought them in are still here, but just trying to live up to what they’ve done,” Kamu Borden says. “My oldest brother Kawika, he went through a whole bunch of injuries but he was able to work through and earn that scholarship, earn playing time and Noah, even though he was a long snapper, he was able to truly be a leader on the team. Being able to learn from both of them, both of their experiences, and even now I still ask them for help. They’re always sharing their knowledge with me and how to best approach every situation that I face.”
Prior to the Borden brothers playing football for Hawaii, Anika Borden was a member of the UH women’s track and field team from 2008 to 2011.
Although Chang didn’t sign any of the Borden boys, he understands how important it is to reignite family legacy pipelines moving forward. Perhaps his biggest recruiting coup to date is Nebraska transfer and former four-star Mililani linebacker Wynden Ho’ohuli, who has four years of eligibility remaining. Chang was college teammates with Watson Ho’ohuli, Wynden’s father.
“It’s everything. The rich tradition that fathers and sons and brothers and grandfathers have played, I think that plays a huge role in what our program is and what we’re about,” Chang says. “They defended the state and played for the state.”
Remarkably, Kamu Borden has another year of eligibility beyond 2022 despite graduating high school over seven years ago. However, he’s decided the upcoming season will be his last playing football. Borden, a mechanical engineering major, earns his degree in December. In February, Pi’ilani and Kamu welcomed their first child, a baby boy named Kualono. After the season, Kamu says he will shift his focus towards providing more for his family.
Knowing that the 2022 season will be his last, Borden worked towards gaining strength, speed and durability over the summer, all while getting a feel for fatherhood and taking care of Kualono.
“He’s a quiet guy by nature but when you ask him to do something, he tries to do it as best as he can,” Chang said. “He’s a guy that we’re gonna rely on in different situations, but definitely an older soul and mature and a guy that we need and I’m glad that he’s part of our team.”