Even as he headed into his senior year with no scholarship offers, Punahou linebacker and recent Georgetown signee GianCarlo Rufo wasn’t entirely focused on his college recruitment. His main priority was to help the Buffanblu win games in 2022 and be a good teammate.

In 2021, Punahou went 1-4 in a COVID-shortened season in perhaps its worst season since the turn of the millennium.

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“Me and the other linebackers, we worked really hard after last season. Those numbers, 1-4, were really in our head,” Rufo told KHON2. “We’ve been saying it all year, all offseason. This year, we just wanted to make it known that’s not what Punahou is about so being able to come in this year as a team and reset the standard was huge for us and personally, I just did what I felt I could do and didn’t worry about any offers and this and that, just tried to do my best and help the team win and then trust that it was gonna get me the looks and get the attention which it did, so everything paid off.”

Rufo’s name started to pick up steam each week in the 2022 season as the Buffanblu program enjoyed a revival of sorts, winning the ILH and advancing to the HHSAA Open Division title game. They finished 9-2, with both of their losses coming to Kahuku.

Rufo stood out as both a leader and the most productive player on a Buffanblu defense that already featured a handful of college prospects. His play became impossible to ignore in 2022, as he was named the consensus ILH Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus first-team All-state linebacker and a finalist for the Cover2 Manti Te’o Defensive Player of the Year.

Lafayette College, Arizona, Hawaii and Georgetown all offered Rufo roster spots during his senior year. Arizona and Hawaii, the two FBS schools to express interest in Rufo, both started off as preferred walk-on opportunities.

“Going into the season, zero offers, it’s almost intimidating,” Rufo said. “You obviously want to do everything for your team and be an unselfish player but at the same time, you want to make plays so you can get the film, get the attention. I think the biggest thing was finding that balance and just knowing that I’d do my job and the plays will come. Even before the season, I never would’ve thought I’d be receiving those accolades and my name being put with those names before me that won those awards, which is a blessing.”

Eventually, Rufo’s interest from Hawaii became a scholarship offer hand-delivered by UH head coach Timmy Chang on the Punahou campus.

Rufo weighed the walk-on interest from Arizona, as well as the UH scholarship offer, against the prestige of attending Georgetown. After his official visit last weekend, he knew where he wanted to go.

“The difference was how at home I felt at Georgetown, just how welcoming everyone was and the feeling that I was really wanted there,” Rufo said. “They were really pushing me, calling me every day and the other schools weren’t really doing that as much so just talking with all my coaches now at Punahou, the biggest thing they said was just go where you feel wanted and that’s where I felt Georgetown University was.

“It was really great. Besides the cold weather, it was really nice. We got a tour around D.C., which was beautiful. The campus was beautiful, everything was close together. There’s a lot of Hawaii boys up there, Poly boys, so really felt like I was home and everyone being so welcoming really had a big impact on my decision.”

Ever since he suited up for the Pop Warner Kalani Falcons as an offensive and defensive lineman in the fourth grade, Rufo knew he wanted to play college football. Although he appreciates the offer from his hometown team, the allure of a free Georgetown education could not be passed up.

“For me and my family, it’s always been bigger than football,” Rufo said. “At Georgetown, I know my next four years will prepare me for the 40 years after that and just the world beyond football. I know that Georgetown’s academics is gonna provide me with lots of opportunities, internships while I’m there and after I’m there. Having Georgetown University on the resume is gonna do me good wherever I go so that was the biggest thing. The education outweighed the FBS vs. FCS.”

The Hoyas went 2-10 in 2022 and haven’t had a winning season since 2011, but it won’t be Rufo’s first time attempting to be a part of a turnaround.

“Just a big thank you to my family, friends, coaches, teammates,” Rufo said. “Definitely would not be here without you guys.”