Rocky Mountain College offensive lineman Sonny Ah Kui already knows a thing or two about playing championship football.
He was a sophomore lineman on the King Kekaulike High School team that captured Hawaii’s Division II title in 2006 and made history in the process.
Ah Kui’s team defeated previously unbeaten Kauai High School 33-20 at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium to become the first high school from Maui to ever win a state football crown.
“That was really big for me,” Ah Kui said this week. “And it is a blessing that I got this second chance (to play at Rocky) and be in the running for first place in the conference and a national championship. It’s amazing.”
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound senior right guard has certainly done his part as Rocky, ranked 12th nationally, swings back into action on Saturday by entertaining Eastern Oregon University in a Frontier Conference game on Herb Klindt Field.
The Battlin’ Bears, tied for first at 4-1 in league and 5-1 overall, and the Mountaineers, 2-3 and 2-4, are scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m.
“I’m enjoying every bit of it,” Ah Kui said of Rocky’s best start since 1998. “It’s kind of crazy thinking that we’re playing mostly for the older guys (seniors) and then for the future.
“We’re doing good things here and there, and hopefully it keeps going for years to come.”
The 22-year-old is quite a success story for the Bears when it comes to his pass protection and run blocking.
“He’s a big, strong guy,” Rocky coach Brian Armstrong said. “He’s got very good athleticism. He is our most explosive guy upfront there, and a guy that we definitely depend on to get the run game started.”
And when the well-decorated behemoth talks about being thankful for second chances at Rocky, he means it.
While he was an all-Frontier player last year and a preseason All-American selection this fall, Ah Kui’s football career nearly came to an end at faraway Eastern Arizona College a few seasons ago.
He said he was languishing in the junior college ranks, sidelined by a broken foot one season, seeing little action on the defensive line the next and not keeping up academically.
“I honestly thought I was going to hang it up and come home and start working,” said Ah Kui, who is from Makewao, Hawaii.
Instead of roofing with his father, though, he wound up at Rocky.
“One of my buddies (from Eastern Arizona) was going to come here and he told the coaches about me,” Ah Kui said. “Armstrong gave me a call. The next thing you know, I was here.”
He was a second-team all-conference pick as a sophomore offensive lineman at Rocky — and he has kept getting stronger and better.
“I came to really prove myself,” Ah Kui said. “Given that I didn’t have any film coming up here to give Armstrong, he was going out on a limb for me. That made me come up here to prove myself.”
“I’ll never forget when he first got here,” Armstrong recalled with a laugh. “We were summer conditioning and I think he made about maybe a sprint and a half and was down on his hands and knees and thought he was going to die.
“But he toughed it out. He kept showing up and, you know, he’s come a long way. Definitely a guy, I think, that our football team looks up to as far as his physicality and how he plays the game. I don’t know if there’s a lot of guys in the league that one-on-one are a lot better than him.”
In joining forces with fellow seniors Neal Coon (left guard) and center Jeff Houser, along with tackles Kyle Breschini (junior) and Matthew Hearn (freshman), Ah Kui is proud of the work now being done on the line.
“We’ve got some tough players,” he said. “We play through sickness, injuries all that stuff, bumps and bruises.”
“He’s a guy that has a pretty good pain tolerance, too,” Armstrong said. “He’s had some hip issues. He probably really needs surgery on a hip, but hasn’t done it yet because he doesn’t want to sit out. “
Rocky, once again, has one of the top passing attacks in the NAIA. The Bears also rushed for 136 yards during their last game against Montana State Northern.
“I think when we run the ball way better than we should, that’s always a big bonus to us,” Ah Kui said. “It feels like we’ve done our part.”
A top priority for the line, however, is providing protection for mobile junior quarterback Bryce Baker, who has accounted for 1,808 yards this fall.
“Every day we kind of worry about Bryce back there,” Ah Kui said. “I guess that’s what pushes us more is to not let him get touched in any way.”
Protecting Baker isn’t that easy. He creates a lot of his passing yards by being on the move in the backfield.
“We don’t exactly know what he’s thinking or where he’s going, so it makes us hold our blocks a lot longer,” Ah Kui said.
The no-huddle, hurry-up offense employed by the Bears also means the linemen need to get set as fast as they can.
“I’m beat, tired,” Ah Kui said of how he feels after games. “It’s a lot of hitting.”
As a result of that blocking, though, the Bears are on one of their best runs ever.
“These are all my brothers,” Ah Kui said of his close-knit teammates. “I wouldn’t trade them for any other team in the world.”
The Bears also feel fortunate that Ah Kui’s comeback has been a big part of their success.
“I wish they all worked out like that,” Armstrong said.