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Husky reunion in Houston

HOUSTON – If you spent any time around the University of Washington’s football program when Hau’oli Kikaha was terrorizing Pac-12 quarterbacks, there were always two things that stood out – his leadership and work ethic.

The 6-foot-2, 253-pound outside linebacker was one of those players who was always working on his game. There were more than a few days when, long after practice ended, Kikaha would remain on the field swatting a tackling dummy.

“He’s the man,” said Dragons defensive lineman Shane Bowman. “He took all of us in and taught us how to play at a high level. We all looked up to Hau’oli. He was pretty much the star of the defense, him and Danny (Shelton).”

The lessons Kikaha provided to all four former Huskies – Bowman, Tani Tupou, Kasen Williams and Lavon Coleman – on Seattle’s XFL squad helped show them what it would take to succeed both in the Pac-12 and as professional football players.

So, it was a special moment on Saturday for Kikaha to be briefly reunited with his former teammates when the Dragons scrimmaged the Dallas Renegades at Darrell Tully Stadium. 

“It’s awesome, man,” said Kikaha, who drafted by the Saints in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft. “These are some of my best friends and we’re playing ball still. It’s good fun, man. I’m happy to be here.

“I, obviously, want to see them be super successful, be healthy. It’s just always good to catch up.”

The Husky connection was one of several reunions that took place after the practice. 

When it comes to friendships, Kikaha and Tupou are connected in a way that transcends football. In fact, Kikaha was at Tupou’s house just before the players left for training camp.

“This is my boy,” Kikaha said. “We’ve done a lot of cool stuff together. He put me in his line in his wedding. He’s one of my best friends.”

Tupou said being on the same field with Kikaha again as professional football players – even though they were on opposite sidelines – was like bringing their personal connection and professional careers full circle.

“It’s great to share the field again, because when you’re in college those relationships you build are special,” he said.

Seeing the five Husky players on the same field, little had changed since they were teammates. Well, Kikaha’s hair is much shorter now, a noticeable difference from the long locks that flowed from the back of his helmet as he harassed quarterbacks.  

“It was nice to see Hau’oli,” Bowman said. “I think he looks good with his haircut. It looks a little different, but it was good to see him for sure.”

Williams added, “You never know where people are going to end up in their stories. Everybody’s story is different and, the fact that we have the XFL to able to reunite with guys we used to play with, guys who deserve opportunities. Hau’oli is one of those guys, because he works harder than anyone I’ve ever met.”

For Kikaha and the guys he used to wear the purple and gold with, the reunion was nice, but what really made it special was seeing friends get the opportunity to continue living their dreams.

“This experience has been an awesome one,” he said. “I get to play ball, get another chance to make a comeback playing the game I love and call it a job.”