In the ever-revolving carousel of college football, a team’s head coach is often the most permanent fixture of a program.
Whether engendering support with their winning records or quotable moments during press conferences, college coaches must become well known if they hope to maintain a supportive fan base and attract the next generation of standouts on the field.
WSU Head Football Coach Nick Rolovich has spent the past four months acquainting himself with Coug fans; in-person at spur of the moment fan meetups or with his deft use of social media. His love for his players is a frequent topic of discussion.
“I like ability to watch kids grow in all aspects of their life, not just on the football field,” Rolovich says.
He combined that passion for his players with his penchant for pageantry to conduct truly memorable scholarship giveaways. In 2017, Rolovich teamed with the Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce to bring a K-Pop group to practice to give a scholarship offer to defensive lineman Zeno Choi. Rolovich has also used a WWE event in Honolulu and a visit to the Taronga Zoo as occasions to award scholarship to his athletes.
His first scholarship event may the coach’s most memorable.
Brodie Nakama walked on to the University of Hawaii’s football team in 2013. At the end of his junior year, he learned that his then-coach was going to put him on scholarship.
Before that could happen, Rolovich was hired on as the new head coach. Nakama spent the following months unsure about whether the scholarship would materialize.
Fast forward to two-a-day practices leading up to the start of the 2016 season, and Nakama and the rest of the team were in the midst of a dozen rounds of up-downs. Rolovich blew the whistle and ordered the team to the nearby pool.
Calling them back out of the pool, Rolovich said he wanted to see someone jump off the high dive. Nakama heard his name called. He was surprised. Shouldn’t one of the younger guys have to do this, he wondered. The long snapper relented, and overcoming his fear of heights, climbed to the top platform.
There waiting for him was a manila envelope. Inside was a laminated paper that proclaimed he’d be getting a full scholarship to play football.
“It was a complete shock for me,” Nakama says.
Upon jumping into the pool below, Nakama was swarmed by his teammates. He asked one of them to go back to the top platform to retrieve the paper. He’d had enough of the heights.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” Nakama, now a member of the University of Hawaii’s coaching staff, says. “Every time I walk past the high dive, I think about that day and what it meant to me and my family.”