Kyle Kaaiwela, a 6-foot-1-inch, 270-pound Yelm offensive lineman, found his next home playing football as the Tornado committed to Oklahoma Baptist University on Jan. 22, shortly after his official visit on campus.
After serving as a key piece to Yelm’s offensive line since his sophomore season, Kaaiwela will next play for the Bison in Shawnee, Oklahoma. While at the school, he will pursue a degree in sports strength and conditioning.
“It’s a blessing to have this opportunity because I know not a lot of people have the chance to play football at the next level,” Kaaiwela said. “It’s a relief off my shoulders knowing that I have a home set for me. As always, the job isn’t finished. I’ll continue to work hard to get better and continue winning.”
Kaaiwela said he first connected with OBU’s offensive line coach, Greg Gothard, during his sophomore year at a football camp in Dallas, Texas. The player-coach relationship between the two grew throughout Kaaiwela’s high school tenure, and he said that played a big part in the lineman’s commitment.
“(Coach Gothard) is such a great guy. He has a lot of knowledge and definitely has a background where he knows the game,” Kaaiwela said. “Being able to be close to family was a cool part, especially with some of my family being in Dallas. My mom plans to move down to Texas, too. That was definitely a big part of my commitment. Another reason was the coaching staff. They definitely played a big part, especially the offensive line coach.”
Much like Yelm, Kaaiwela sees Shawnee, Oklahoma, as a smaller, tightly-knit community. When comparing the two programs — Yelm and OBU, Kaaiwela saw several more similarities, such as an ever-growing hunger to win.
“It’s definitely a small town. One thing I really liked about it is they still have the ‘always work’ mentality. I know their goal is to win, especially after talking with the head coach,” Kaaiwela said. “They’re definitely trying to make that step towards being a winning team. It really motivates me. It reminds me of what we did at Yelm with being the underdogs and always striving to win. It feels like home.
“I want to win. That’s how I grew up and developed this habit growing up in Yelm. Losing sucks. I’ve been on both sides of the ball, winning a state championship and losing a state championship,” Kaaiwela continued. “I always want to win, and Oklahoma Baptist has shown me that they want to win.”
Prior to visiting OBU, Kaaiwela was unsure if he’d receive financial support from the program. He learned during his visit that the program would provide scholarships to cover over half of the cost of attending the university. He said it was a great feeling to learn OBU wanted to provide that help.
“I was always trying to be on the grind with reaching out to coaches,” Kaaiwela said. “You see all these athletes posting their offers, and it was my dream to be like one of those guys. It was really a dream come true when those offers started to roll in, especially when I got my first D-II.”
His personal goals for his tenure in Shawnee, Oklahoma, include to continue his winning mentality, receive a good education and to become a bigger, faster and stronger athlete.
“I know football isn’t going to be there all the time. Knowing I’ll have something to fall back on after football is over, it’s great,” Kaaiwela said. “I’d like to thank my parents for getting me to this point. They’ve always been there for me, especially during the hard times of getting through the recruiting process. I’d also like to thank my grandmas, and the Yelm coaching staff and my teammates. They mean a lot to me. Everyone who has got me to this point, I really want to thank them because without them, I wouldn’t be in this situation.”