2020 DT Aidan 'Big Kahuna' Keanaaina commits to Notre Dame
On the first day of his sophomore year in high school, Aidan Keanaainaâs English teacher said his name during roll call. As Keanaaina raised his hand, a friend interrupted.
âSir, thatâs not Aidan, thatâs 'Big Kahuna,'â his classmate said.
âEveryone just started laughing, and the teacher had to calm everyone down,â Keanaaina said. âThen he (the teacher) got really upset â¦ I was like, âOh great. What a great first impression.ââ
Keanaaina aims to forge a better first impression, especially with Notre Dame football fans after verbally committing to the Irish. He announced the news via Twitter on Wednesday, his 17th birthday. Perhaps it will be Keanaaina's nickname â a Hawaiian phrase that to him means âBig Fishâ â that will endear him to Irish nation.
As NDâs fifth commit in the 2020 class, Keanaaina joins quarterback Drew Pyne, defensive end Alexander Ehrensberger and tight ends Kevin Bauman and Michael Mayer.
âI know the kind of people that come to Notre Dame, whether that be football players or normal students,â Keanaaina told the Tribune. âTo get into Notre Dame, itâs hard enough, so you already know that they are there to succeed in the classroom, get their degree and be successful in life.
âTo play football and get your degree there, thatâs even bigger. It just shows how hard they are willing to work in the field and classroom, and those are the kind of people I want to surround myself with. Thatâs going to push me to do better every day in both atmospheres.â
Keanaainaâs father started theÂ âBig Kahunaâ reference a couple years ago after observing his sonâs thicker legs. Now at 6-foot-3, 292 pounds,Â the Denver Mullen product rates as a three-star recruit on 247Sports, while Rivals offers him a four-star rating.
247Sports ranks Keanaaina as the No. 33 defensive tackle and No. 370 overall player. Rivals slates Keanaaina No. 17 at the position. The sites rank NDâs 2020 class No. 15 and No. 16, respectively.
âHeâs a big time player and one of the best defensive tackles in the country,â said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. âHeâs got great feet, great hands. This kid is relentless, very aggressive and born to play football. Heâs also a really good student, so heâs a typical Notre Dame-type kid.â
A July 26 visit preceded Keanaainaâs Sept. 29 unofficial visit for NDâs home game against Stanford. The Irish staff continued to express interest in Keanaaina, visiting his high school a few times over the past couple months.
Head coach Brian Kelly would have swung by if weather had permitted. Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, the geographic recruiter of Keanaaina, began the recruitment. Mike Elston, NDâs defensive line coach, took over the reigns long ago and made an impression on Keanaaina.
âI saw him as a family man,â said Keanaaina of Elston. âHe had his daughters with him. I saw how he was with his daughters, and I immediately knew that if he was such a great parent like he seemed, then he would be an amazing coach.â
Denver Mullen also produced Emmett Mosley, a former Irish running back and wide receiver from 1993-96. The private, Catholic institution mirrors the culture of Notre Dame, which played a role in attracting Keanaaina to the university.Â
That experience also shaped Keanaaina. Some of Keanaaina's classmates do not know he accrued offers from Ohio State, USC, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and UCLA. KeanaainaÂ intends to take one official visit â to South Bend â before signing with the Irish.Â
âMy parents taught me to not kiss and tell,â Keanaaina said.
The Irish could envision Keanaaina developing into a nose guard or defensive tackle. He registered 69 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three hurries, three forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery across nine games as a junior.
The upcoming senior season will be referred to by Keanaaina as his âredshirt freshmanâ year. In 2019, Keanaaina aspires to perform as though itâs a precursor for playing early and often in college.
âHis pad level became much, much better,â said Vincent White, Mullenâs head coach. âHeâs a strong fella. Heâs very gifted that way. Heâs got a lot of strength with himself. If he learns how to get leverage and do a better job with leverage, heâs going to be a really good football player.â
As Mullen's lone player of Polynesian descent, Keanaaina led the Mustangs in the Haka dance before games last season. The dynamic routine comes from the MÄori culture, and it requires a combination of shouting, rhythmic stomping and coordinated movements.
The tradition inspired teammates to call Keanaaina by his nickname. Maybe soon, Irish fans will do the same.
That's not Aidan. Thatâs Big Kahuna.
âThat would be OK. As long as they donât do it rudely, I donât care,â Keanaaina said. âIf itâs fun for them, and they find it cool, I wonât be the one to stop them.â
COMMITED 100% TO THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME â¡ï¸ #IRISHBOUNDXX âï¸ #WeAreND#GoIrish THANK YOU @CoachBrianKelly@CoachMikeElston@Coach_Lea@ToddLyght@StaceyKeanaaina@MullenMustang@SixZeroAcademy@adamgorney@TomLoy247@KevinSinclair_@LemmingReport@NDFootball âï¸ pic.twitter.com/9o0odEGdmF
â Aidan Ikaika Keanaaina KAY-AW-NAH-EYE-NAH (@AidanAkfootball) February 13, 2019