Paul Valencia: Journey leads Kawawaki to Yale

Paul Valencia: Commentary

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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photoRemick Kawawaki

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It is roughly 3,000 miles from Columbia River High School to Yale University.

For Remick Kawawaki, Yale might as well have been on another planet.

"I basically thought of the Ivy League as another world, something unattainable," he said. "I never thought about it."

Not until he was forced to consider it, anyway.

Kawawaki, a senior at Columbia River with football skills that match his academic excellence, is going to play for Yale. And he never would have believed you if you told him that just a year ago.

At first, he thought someone was playing a joke on him. Calls were made, with people identifying themselves as being coaches from programs with names such as Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia.

"I thought it was odd at first," Kawawaki said.

He started getting friend requests on Facebook.

"This is actually legit. These guys are actually real."

The coaches knew of his studies, that Kawawaki is a full-time Running Start student with a 3.80 grade-point average. They also knew about his football skills. A three-year varsity starter, Kawawaki is known in Clark County as one of the top running backs in the region. The college coaches also saw he could play defense.

He recalled sending Yale coaches a four-game highlight video.

"The next day, they said, 'We definitely want you.' They were really on board after that," Kawawaki said.

But here's the thing. It wasn't just Yale. It turned out, just about all of those elite institutions wanted him.

"I didn't have a bad choice. I'm really blessed that I had a choice," Kawawaki said.

Still, he said it was difficult, picking from a final three of Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. Kawawaki set out on an interesting journey to figure out the best place for him. He went on an official visit to Harvard in Massachusetts one weekend, came back to Vancouver to take a final, then headed right back to the East Coast to take in Yale.

"My head was up in the clouds a little bit," he said after his stop at Harvard.

When he got to Yale, there was just a little bit extra.

"The Yale coaches did a very good job of showing me what Yale had that was unique," Kawawaki recalled, noting the "sense of community" because of the university's residential college system.

"I always kind of thought the stereotype," Kawawaki said of Ivy League students being "pompous and rude."

Not true at all. Everyone was open, welcoming. Kawawaki learned that the student body values the athletic programs.

The coaches also did an exceptional job of proving to Kawawaki that they really did want him there in New Haven, Conn.

Kawawaki returned home to Vancouver on a Sunday. On Monday, new Yale head coach Tony Reno was at Kawawaki's home. Hey, Remick visited Yale; the least the coach could do was visit Remick.

Sold!

Kawawaki is going to be a Bulldog. He expects to play safety or outside linebacker. He is hoping to help the team get out of a funk. Yale went 2-8 this season.

Oh, don't worry. He plans to study a bit, too.

"The eventual goal is to become a doctor who practices natural medicine," he said.

While the studies at Yale will be intense, difficult, Kawawaki said he will not have any trouble focusing on the school work.

"I've always been a hard worker in school. I have above-average intelligence, but I'm not a genius by any means. What sets me apart is my work ethic," he explained. "I'm very driven. My parents have never had to force me to do my homework."

For Kawawaki, this recruitment from the Ivy League and his decision to go to Yale is just another bonus in what has been a memorable senior year. After back-to-back seasons without going to the postseason, the Chieftains went on a six-game winning streak to earn the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League championship and win a state preliminary round game to advance to the state playoffs.

"We told ourselves we're really going to strive to do something greater this year," Kawawaki said. "We had a team that had a lot of heart."

Remick Kawawaki will represent that championship team in the Ivy League next year.

And just like that, Yale and Columbia River do not seem so far apart from one another anymore.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4557, paul.valencia@columbian.com or follow his Twitter handle: @360PaulV.