Hawaii player’s inspirational journey at Northwestern ruled No. 1 by teammates

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In 2011, the Northwestern University football team started a tradition of having a team vote to select a player to wear the No. 1 jersey.

The jersey honors the student-athlete who embodies the values and character of the Wildcat program.

At the start of this season, Iolani graduate Chad Hanaoka received that honor.

In high school, the former Raiders running back helped guide Iolani to a pair of Division II state championships.

Four years ago, he walked on to the Wildcat program and earlier this season recorded his first career reception in a win over Nebraska.

Where the senior’s journey with the Wildcats began is truly remarkable.

“Chad started in my office in the fall of 2014. He had been in discussions with Chris Bowers, our director  of player personnel about walking on here at Northwestern,” said Darby Dunnagan, director of video operations.

“They did say I could become a part of the staff and get to know some of the coaches, get to be around the guys, and so that’s the reason why when I came here, got in off the wait list, I joined the video staff for that first season,” said Hanaoka.

While working his first game, the video staff’s new addition reacted naturally to the game’s first big moment.

“I was so excited that I threw my hands in the air and hit the cameraman, and so there’s a huge jerk in the camera,” Hanaoka recalled with a laugh.

“I knew he was going to transition to the team. Chris knew he was going to transition to the team, and Cody, our  director of operations, also knew he was going to transition to the team,” said Dunnagan. “The problem was, nobody told Fitz (head coach Pat Fitzgerald) that, so the first day of winter workouts, Fitz turns to Bowers and says, ‘Hey, who’s that guy?'”

“Then he was just kicking rear end going through the workout. I’m like, you know the video kid’s pretty good,” Fitzgerald said.

“‘Wait. The video guy? Now we’ve got the video guy on the team?’ That’s when Coach Fitz learned that Chad was joining the team as a walk-on,” Dunnagan said.

In the years since, Hanaoka has come to embody the definition of what it means to be a Wildcat.

“I think for me, (the No. 1 jersey) was just an incredible honor, especially because it came from my teammates,” said Hanaoka. “That meant the most to me and I realized up until this point in my career, I hadn’t been a major contributor on Saturdays. They saw my work ethic. They saw just the love I have for my brothers on the team, and for them to give me that recognition really meant a lot. Nothing with that has really changed. I just try to lead by example.”

Hanaoka and the Wildcats have three regular-season games remaining, starting with 21st-ranked Iowa on Saturday.

You’ll be able to watch that game at 10:30 a.m. HST on KHON2.

Story and video courtesy Northwestern Athletics.

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