WAILUKU - Keloni Kamalani was born for this.
"I am super excited," the former Kamehameha Schools Maui linebacker said. "All my life I dreamed for something like this, just to make it to this level, you know, to play in a national championship in my second year here, it is just the greatest feeling."
Kamalani is a redshirt freshman for the Oregon football team, which will face Auburn in the Bowl Championship Series title game Monday in Glendale, Ariz.
Former KS Maui linebacker
Keloni Kamakani, former linebacker for Kamehameha Schools Maui, recorded five tackles in four games in 2010 for the Oregon Ducks, who face Auburn in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Monday.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
He is believed to be just the second Maui Interscholastic League graduate to play for a national title at the highest level of college football - current Cleveland Browns linebacker Kaluka Maiava, a Baldwin graduate, played for Southern California in a loss to Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
After Kamalani's injury-riddled senior season in Pukalani, it was hard to imagine he would ever get to this stage. He was an invited walk-on at Oregon after not receiving an NCAA Division I scholarship offer, then made the team in fall camp before rosters expanded when school started.
Now, he owns a Pac-10 championship ring from his work on the scout team last season and will receive a second ring this season after recording five tackles in four games.
He is slowly moving up the depth chart and made every travel squad in the Ducks' 12-0 run to "The Natty," as the title game has been affectionately dubbed in Eugene.
"Definitely that first initial moment when I made the team, that was definitely one of the greatest feelings ever," he said Christmas Eve morning, when he was in the middle of a four-day trip home. "To make it to my number-one school that I wanted to be at. Now that we are in the national championship it is another better feeling."
Kamalani decided he wanted to be a Duck when he attended the Oregon football camp the summer before his junior year at Kamehameha Maui.
"I knew that is where I wanted to be," he said.
During his junior season, he tore the labrum in his shoulder, but put off surgery as he finished a season that earned him a spot on the MIL All-Star first team. An operation finally became unavoidable during the summer before his senior year and it cost him six games - still, he received a league honorable mention.
"Sometimes I did think about (the doubts), but I really just focused - I knew what I wanted and I just made sure I got it," Kamalani said.
"It was very frustrating because I knew I needed some kind of action my senior year to show what I had."
He won an award as the best linebacker at the Oregon camp, which - when scholarship offers never materialized - helped show what he could do.
It was enough to get a chance with the Ducks, and now, he's in heaven in the rain.
"Oregon is everything and more," Kamalani said. "I loved it there."
The Ducks are 22-3 in Chip Kelly's two seasons, and played in the Rose Bowl last year.
"Coach Kelly has just instilled in us that all our preparations are everything," Kamalani said. "From the start, he said that we need to have that mindset to accomplish things the whole season."
All of Kamalani's appearances this season came late in blowouts, but he feels more playing time is in his future.
"It is kind of hard to deal with coming from high school playing almost every play until now, but it is just something you have got to work for," he said. "You just have to strive for that top."
His father, David Kamalani, has been training Keloni to be as strong and fast as possible for as long as the 19-year-old can remember.
Keloni is a member of the Oregon "Iron Club" with a 365-pound bench press, 465 squat, and 330 power clean - not bad for a 5-foot-11, 209-pounder who also runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
"Especially if I want to play, I do need to show them what I have got," he said. "Playing time should be coming for me definitely next year, at least special teams and maybe in the mix for defense."
Kamalani has five brothers and sisters. With each player receiving six tickets to Monday's game - and throwing his parents into the mix - one family member will have to watch on television.
"Just know that I am trying to represent the island well - the people, my family - just trying to bring it home for everybody," he said. "Right now, we are just focusing on the game."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All times HST
BBVA Compass Bowl
At Birmingham, Ala.
Pittsburgh 27, Kentucky 10
Fight Hunger Bowl At San Francisco
Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada
(12-1), 4 p.m. (ESPN)
BCS national championship
At Glendale, Ariz.
Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, Jan. 22
At Orlando, Fla.
East-West Shrine Classic, 11 a.m.
Saturday, Jan. 29
At Mobile, Ala.
Senior Bowl, 11 a.m.