With the number of high school players Western Pennsylvania football powers Clairton and Woodland Hills have sent to Pitt over the years, it’s been said both have built pipelines directly to the university.
St. Francis is working on a pipeline of its own, and while the Red Flash football team would love to land some of the elite players on this side of the state, they’re pretty happy with the influx of talent coming from Hawaii.
When St. Francis announced its 2013 recruiting class last Wednesday, three of the 22 additions came from the Aloha State. A fourth was later added to set the incoming class at 23.
The association between Hawaii and Loretto may sound unlikely, but the connection can be traced to coach Chris Villarrial’s playing days with the Chicago Bears. Villarrial, a former Pro Bowl offensive lineman with Chicago, was teammates with Olin Kreutz, who made six Pro Bowls as a center for the Bears. Villarrial remained in contact with the Honolulu-born Kreutz after the two retired from playing.
“I played with him for eight years and even went to his wedding in Hawaii,” Villarrial said Monday. “Being around the Polynesians and seeing the way they love playing football and the passion they have for the sport, it’s just a great fit for us.”
St. Francis boasts six players from Hawaii on its roster in linebackers Asalemo Fruean, Semo Sila, Max Ma’afala-Maiava, offensive linemen Tuafale Faatoafe, Thurston Kino and defensive lineman Kaena Moose.
Joining them will be twin brothers Mike Boyd and Mitchell Boyd – a pair of offensive linemen from Farrington High School in Honolulu – in addition to linebackers Solomon Leaeno from James Campbell in Kapolei, Hawaii and Wesley Nagaseu of Waipahu, Hawaii.
The connection has been bolstered by Doris Sullivan, who runs the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the budget to fly out to Hawaii all the time and recruit these players, but we have Doris Sullivan out there and she’s been a tremendous help,” Villarrial said. “It’s a little bit of a gamble on both sides because they don’t know much about us and we don’t know a lot about them.”
Villarrial believes Mike and Mitchell Boyd are part of a promising recruiting class that could provide immediate help at St. Francis, which finished 5-6 in 2012 for its best record since 1992.
The Red Flash hope the pair address areas of need.
The incoming class focused on interior linemen, cornerbacks and tight ends. Villarrial points to receiver Rodriquiz Alexander (Everglades, Fla.), running back Cole Bush (Burrell), defensive back KC Griffin (Bethesda, Md.), Nagaseu as potential immediate impact players.
St. Francis’ steady improvement and Villarrial’s NFL connections have helped recruiting efforts in recent years.
“It definitely is getting easier getting in doors,” he said. “The one challenge we’re still having is getting local players. There’s still that stigma. I still hear from parents who think we’re Division III. We’ve just got to keep hitting the local players because we’d love to start locking them up.”