Wynden Ho’ohuli has never been to Nebraska, never seen Memorial Stadium or the Huskers’ football facilities or anything else on campus with his own eyes.
In fact, the only college he was able to visit during the course of his recruitment was Washington.
If you think going through a college football recruiting process was difficult for the typical high-level high school player this past year, imagine doing it from Hawaii.
That’s exactly what Ho’ohuli was faced with. On Saturday, he verbally committed to Nebraska, making his announcement in a nationally televised broadcast on NBC as part of the network’s All-American Bowl festivities.
Ho'ohuli certainly didn't look like the decision had caused much stress when he announced his plans, flanked by his family, from Black Rocks Beach, with the ocean in the background. Ho'ohuli told NBC that the beach is a special place to his family and that he wanted to announce his decision from there in part to honor a late aunt of his.
As for why he picked Nebraska, he said it came down to trust.
"Just believing what they say and believing everything they tell me (about what I can do) as a player and as a student over there in Lincoln," he said. "Just catching a feel, talking to them every day, building a good relationship with all the coaches. The whole coaching staff is really good. That really helped me and my family and made it an easier decision for us during this time.
"I'm proud to be a Cornhusker."
He picked the Huskers over finalists Washington, Utah and Kansas State.
Ho’ohuli is considered the top-ranked 2021 player in the state and is a consensus four-star player. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker is ranked the No. 184 player nationally by 247Sports and Rivals both. He hails from the same powerhouse school on Oahu that has produced recent standouts such as quarterbacks McKenzie Milton (Florida State) and Dillon Gabriel (Central Florida), former five-star prospect Palaie Gaoteote and several others.
"Watching Wyden on the field can be mesmerizing," his mother, Kristi, said during the NBC broadcast. "He's explosive and he's so zoned into the game. I know he does it with passion and a lot of wisdom."
Said Mililani coach Rod York, "Wynden is a beast. He's a player. A lot has to do with his instincts. A lot has to do with his ability to move. A lot has to do with his intelligence and football IQ."
Among others on Nebraska’s coaching staff, Ho’ohuli formed a close relationship with defensive line coach Tony Tuioti. While Nebraska has had a pair of players of Polynesian descent transfer in the past couple of years — defensive lineman Vaha Vainuku and Kanawai Noa (also from Oahu) — Ho’ohuli is believed to be the first Polynesian player to verbally commit to the Huskers out of high school since 1999.
"My mindset is recruiting kids with Polynesian ties is we want to make sure we bring the right kids into the program and into the building," Tuioti said during a radio appearance last month. "Obviously a lot of them like to stay on the West Coast, but there are some where we're doing a pretty good job building relationships like with any other culture, any other families we're trying to recruit."
Even so, Hawaii is an awfully long way from Nebraska, particularly during a global pandemic that has kept high school recruits from visiting campuses officially or unofficially since mid-March. That didn’t stop Tuioti from being able to gain traction in Hawaii and with Ho’ohuli.
"The great thing I love about being here at Nebraska, especially with Coach Frost, is this is a family atmosphere,” Tuioti said. “Faith, family and football is very important in this building, so it aligns with a lot of the Polynesian families' culture back home. …
“So I think there's some kids who are liking the culture we've got going on … and just like anything else, once we land one, the pipeline is established and we'll continue to try to build on that."
Ho’ohuli is the 21st known member of Nebraska’s 2021 class. The Huskers signed 19 high school players back in December and also have a graduate transfer in Northern Iowa linebacker Chris Kolarevic in the fold.
NU has four spots remaining for its 2021 class and will be targeting a mix of high school players and transfers for those. The next signing period opens Feb. 3.
Nebraska moved up four spots in the 2021 247Sports team recruiting rankings to No. 20 nationally and checks in No. 19 nationally according to Rivals.
"(My family) is going to miss me a lot, I know they are, but there are bigger and better things going on and I'm going to provide for my family," Ho'ohuli said.
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