(Honolulu, HAWAII)--Punahou inside linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea has two goals at UCLA: to make an impact and to represent Hawai'i well.
Two name cards -- one bearing Texas A & M -- and another bearing UCLA -- marked Isaac's place on the signing table during yesterday's Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance (PIAA) signing event held at the Sheraton Waikiki. PIAA, a non-profit organization that exclusively serves students from Hawaii and American Samoa hosts the single largest signing event in the United States. More than 50 signed during the PIAA event.
Isaac is a cool, humble 17-year-old from Salt Lake on O'ahu, the son of Nasel Savaiinaea and Syvette Johnston.
"My goal is to make an impact and represent Hawaii really well," he told tautalatala.com yesterday. "If I don't go to the NFL, then my goal is to get my college degree."
Some national media said that Isaac, 6 feet 3, 235 pounds, received offers from 14 schools.
"There's more," he smiled. "There were 28."
By Wednesday morning, National Signing Day, Isacc had it narrowed down to two choices: Texas A&M or UCLA.
Over the microphone, PIAA director Doris Sullivan asked Isaac where he was going. Isaac removed the Texas A&M name card from the table and proudly put the blue UCLA cap on his head. He visited the campus last year.
The deciding factor, he says, "the coaches and Jeff Ulbrich." Ulbrich is a former NFL linebacker drafted out of the University of Hawaii in 2000 by the San Francisco 49ers. He is currently linebacker and special teams coach at UCLA.
"It's just his (Ulbrich) whole vibe and everything...he's intense and cool...he's supercool," said Isaac who has roots in Nu'uuli, American Samoa. "He's like a second father."
Like many of the nation's top athletes who were faced with picking a school, yesterday's signing brought a huge sigh of relief.
"It was tiring. This whole process it's stressful...looking where to go and you don't even know where to go...thinking about where to go," he said. "And it finally came down to UCLA. Thank you to my family, my mom and dad, my coaches and friends. I just love you guys."
Isaac is already making an impact. He is ranked third in the nation by Scout.com, in his position. Leading up to signing day, news agencies were scrambling to get the scoop on where he'd sign.
PIAA Signing Day speakers were Hawaii businessman Peter Kim, former University of Alabama Kicker under Bear Bryant and 11-year NFL veteran Rich Miano, former University of Hawaii defensive back. He is also a former UH assistant head coach.
Kim went to Alabama and in "those days he said "blacks and whites" didn't sit together.
"I'm from Hawai'i, so I didn't know where to sit," he said. "It's one of those things you will have to face. The food will be different and you will be challenged by other players. Be yourself and hold your line. Believe in what's right, do what's right. There will be thoughts of quitting. Stay out there and do your duties. You would not be here without your family support. Love your family. Respect your family."
Miano commended the group saying that they are among the less than one percent of athletes who receive scholarships.
"A scholarship is priceless. You can't quantify the value of a scholarship," he said. "Milestones and goals should be graduation and a college degree. Getting a college degree is huge."