Lives Lost: Hawaii football coach who prepped kids for life

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Ke'ala Aki

This 2017 photo provided by Ke'ala Aki shows Willie Talamoa, rear center with shaved head, next to Kanohi Aki, rear left, as they pray with players from their 15-and-under flag football team in Honolulu. A Honolulu community is mourning the loss of Talamoa, a mentor, football coach and father figure who died after contracting COVID-19. (Ke'ala Aki via AP)

HONOLULU – Honolulu football coach Willie Talamoa bought his players cleats, drove them to practice and often stayed late to talk with those having trouble in school.

For Talamoa, his actions weren’t just about football. They were about helping the young people in the hardscrabble neighborhood of Kalihi where he grew up get the attention they deserved.

“His philosophy was, the more kids that are at practice with us, the less kids that are out on the streets of Kalihi,” said fellow coach Kinohi Aki, who grew up with Talamoa in Kalihi’s public housing developments.

Now, the community is mourning Talamoa’s death from COVID-19, remembering the 36-year-old as a mentor and father figure who volunteered countless hours to give young people the opportunities he didn’t have.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of stories remembering people who have died from the coronavirus around the world.


Talamoa played football at McKinley High School in central Honolulu, then at Dixie State in Utah where he was recruited as a defensive lineman. His interest in coaching grew after he injured his knee in college and had to stop playing.