Football players leave Hawaii to play for Saddleback

Kauai natives Travis Nakamura (#22), Bo Valeria (#11) and Canaan Bernard (#21) came to Saddleback to play football for the Gauchos. (Nathaniel Vamvas)

Nathaniel Vamvas

Many Hawaiians share the dream of one day playing college football. Unfortunately there are no junior colleges on any of the eight main Hawaiian islands that offer football to student athletes.

Hawaiian students looking to further their dreams of playing football must travel to the mainland in order to do so. Saddleback College has many foreign students who are willing to apply themselves and show their full dedication to college athletics.

Travis Nakamura, 21, Bo Valeria, 20 and Canaan Bernard, 19 are all kinesiology majors who come from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Football has been a part of their since they were young boys playing Pop Warner as early as fifth grade.

Nakamura played in the Pee Wee league with Bernard. They went on to play high school ball, however playing on opposing teams. Nakamura and Valeria played for Kapal High School while Bernard played for Kauai High School.

“It was fun, but we still competed,” said Nakamura.

Hoping to one day playing college football, the players met a major setback in their homeland. In all of Hawaii there are no community colleges which offer football.

Therefore, Nakamura moved to California to play ball for the Saddleback Gauchos. He is currently playing his third season.

Following Nakamura, Bernard and Valeria were influenced to travel to the mainland to play college ball for Saddleback as well. Bernard and Valeria are currently playing their second season for the Gauchos.

The three men have lived together in Mission Viejo for the last two years. Becoming roommates has made their lifestyle more convenient. They are able to motivate one another and keep each other on track athletically as well as academically. Also, because they have grown up together and have been very close for many years they can trust each other entirely.

College here on the mainland differs vastly from college life on the islands.

“In the mainland everything is more fast paced,” Nakamura said. “Back home it’s more calm and mellow.”

Saddleback was recommended as an option to Nakamura by family members and friend who had attended the school. He was immediately attracted to the college and athletic department.


“I had uncles and other friends that went here and they said it was super good,” Nakamura said. “I talked to the coaches and they said to come check it out… from there I made the decision to come and play for Saddleback.”

His decision to play for Saddleback influenced others to follow.

Although the Gauchos have had a victorious season in 2010 overall, the team took home their first loss off the season to Bakersfield during their second playoff.

“It was just a hard one,” Nakamura said. “We just have to correct our mistakes.”

Coming from an island off the coast, the players were determined to adjust to college life in California.

Nakamura and Bernard have different opinions as to what are their favorite aspects of college life.

“For me it is living on our own because we have our own responsibilities,” Nakamura said.

Bernard had a slightly different view on his favorite aspect of college living,

“The women are definitely one of my favorite parts of living near Saddleback,” said Bernard.

Also, the Hawaiian natives have made many friends here, especially on the football team in particular.

Nakamura will be accepting his associate’s degree this year and will be returning to the islands of Hawaii. He says he would accept a scholarship to play football for any university and is not necessarily particular. However, Nakamura has something to fall back on in his homeland. A company run by his uncle creates many possible opportunities for a future career when he returns.

The players only get to travel home from college twice a year. Once during Christmas vacation and once during summer break. However, they have to cut their summer vacation short in order to return for the beginning of practice for the following fall season. Football will always be a part of their lives.

They love playing football most on the beaches of Kauai. Even though they are constantly teased about their complexion becoming lighter. Probably because they are always on the beach tanning in Kauai. In any case, they claim that they will always be islanders at heart.

Coming from Hawaii, the foreign players are required to pay an out-of-state tuition. This means they pay $234 per unit rather than a California resident paying $26 a unit. Regardless, they show much dedication to their sport of football as a huge part of their lives.

“It is always difficult, football drains you,” Nakamura said. “If you don’t keep up with your grades then you can’t play.”

All football players spend approximately 45 hours a week with academics and team practice. These three Hawaiian athletes claim that they will not return to their homeland until they have reached their goals here at Saddleback.

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