Team unity is an under-appreciated part of football.
Team unity is an under-appreciated part of football.
Chelsea Burks

What it means to be a Rainbow Warrior

Football players Kaleb Carter- Jackson, Josh Atkins and Andrew Choi talk about representing Hawaii

The University of Hawaii football team is the state’s biggest sports enterprise, with fans across the islands and across the nation.

Since the first group of Rainbow Warriors took the field in 1909, the team has embodied a vibrant culture, undying dedication, and untouchable unity, players say. After 114 years, 625 games, 17 head coaches and four different home stadiums, each and every player that has worn the UH uniform aims to perpetuate the example of the Warriors that came before them.

Not only has this team spent years making a name for itself in the world of collegiate football, it has had an immense impact on Hawaii as a whole. It is quite easy to view this team through a simplistic lens, placing its value on wins and losses, conference standing and individual players’ talents. However in taking a deeper look, we may uncover several different facets of this team and how its significance runs much deeper than its success.

“I’m still learning about what it means to be a Rainbow warrior, but every Saturday, I put on the uniform with honor for those who wore it before me,” said freshman Kaleb Carter-Jackson, reflecting on his first year as a Rainbow Warrior.

“Playing in my very first collegiate game was an eye opener for sure,” he added. “I looked into the crowd and had this ‘woah, I’m actually playing this game at a higher level’ moment. It was very surreal.”

Carter-Jackson did not begin playing football until the age of seventeen. He spent a majority of his life as a basketball player, determined to play for a big basketball school such as Purdue, Marquette or Duke and possibly to make it into the NBA. He had no intentions of pursuing a career in football until his senior year of high school, when he decided to pick up another sport for his final year. He instantly fell in love with having a big team, a massive group of young men to call brothers. Spending each Friday night in the fall of 2022 underneath the fluorescent lights of his high school stadium in Fresno, California, he knew football was the path meant for him.

“I’ve loved basketball for as long as I can remember,” Carter-Jackson said. “Making the decision between my lifelong dream and a sport that I had recently grown to love was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made.”

Though it was tough, Carter-Jackson made the choice to commit to the University of Hawaii in December of 2022, mid-basketball season.

“It felt amazing to finally commit to UH,” he said. “I had my friends and family around me, supporting me through my whole journey. My family is definitely my biggest motivator, especially my mom.”

Throughout his upbringing, he said, his mom made endless sacrifices to ensure that his childhood was filled with comfort, stability and love.

Carter-Jackson’s dedication to football is in part an ode to his mom, knowing that when he makes it big, he will be able to repay her for all that she has done for him.

“I call my mom as she gets ready for work every morning,” he said. “With her being as old as she is now and still having to get up and go to work is my motivation to keep going everyday. There are days when I question why I am doing this. Then I remember my mom is still working two jobs, so I can’t quit.”

As he moves forward with his career in football as well as his academics, Carter-Jackson said he intends to keep his humble beginnings in the forefront of every move he makes. His experiences with football thus far have made an irrevocable impact on his life. He stands strong in knowing that he is making those who love him very proud, and that his dedication, love, and talent for the game of football will propel him to a successful career. In wrapping up his very first year as a Rainbow warrior, he recalled how much this sport has taught him in the two short years that he’s been involved.

“This sport has taught me how to be a better leader, friend, and brother,” he said. “Going into a game putting everything on the line for your brothers and knowing that they are doing the same for you makes me want to play even harder so I’m not letting them down.”

Offensive lineman Josh Atkins had a bit of a different journey to share. He began playing football at the age of six, practically the earliest age at which children are allowed to become involved with such a rigorous sport. Though he grew up playing football, he did not recognize it as a true passion until nearly eight years later, when he was a freshman in high school.

“I always loved football growing up, but my freshman year was when I really realized that this was something I could go to college with,” Atkins said. “It was then that I decided to really work hard and make something of myself and my passion for football.”

After graduating from high school in 2021, Atkins originally committed to the University of Houston, close to his home in Arlington, Texas. After playing two seasons in Texas, he decided it was in his best interest to transfer to a different school in order to further fulfill his desire for a career on the field. In the middle of his sophomore year of college he entered the transfer portal, open to any schools that might give him a higher chance of success, more playing time, and more recognition than his current university. The Rainbow Warriors were in desperate need of offensive lineman at the time, therefore head coach Timmy Chang sought out to recruit Atkins and bring him home to Hawaii.

“I committed to the University of Hawaii last December,” Atkins said. “Being a transfer comes with a lot of unknowns, there’s a certain instability when you don’t have a team to play for. Everything feels kind of up in the air. It’s all dependent on who gives you an opportunity. It was a relief to finally commit and find a home.”

Once committed to playing in Hawaii, he made the 3,000-mile move from Houston to Honolulu. It was a big transition to move from one of the biggest states in the nation to one of the smallest.

“Hawaii is much smaller and more condensed than back home,” he said. “There’s only one major city and it’s pretty small. Here in Hawaii, everybody knows everybody, and there’s a very tight sense of community. It reminds me of home a little bit in that way, though, Hawaii’s hospitality reminds me of the southern hospitality I grew up with.”

It took Atkins some time to adjust to life on the island, he said, but he could always count on the team to make him feel at home. The entire team felt like a big family to him instantly as there is an undeniable connectivity between those who are all working toward the same goal. Looking around the locker room, he saw each and every one of his team members carry the same love for the sport, as well as their dedication to become better players every day. After enduring a great deal of turmoil throughout his first two years attending University, moving through the transfer portal, and making the move to Hawaii, he knew that this was the place he was meant to be.

“It truly does feel like a big family with all of the guys,” Atkins said. “Of course we work hard on the field, but we also spend a lot of time together outside of practice and games. Of course like a real family you take to some more than others, but you love all of them regardless, and want what’s best for them.”

He has had quite an impressive first season as a Rainbow Warrior. He appeared in each game as the prime offensive lineman in charge of shielding the current Warriors quarterback Brayden Schager. One of his most notable plays took place on September 23 against New Mexico State, when he recovered a fumble and proceeded to run the ball fourteen yards. With two more years of eligibility in his collegiate football career, Atkins intends to continue his drive and work harder and harder with each practice and each game.

While each player on the team is proud to represent Hawaii, putting on a jersey with the University of Hawaii logo means something different for defensive end Andrew Choi. Born and raised on Oahu, playing for the Rainbow Warriors is a dream come true for this senior. Choi began his football career at the age of ten. Even at such a young age, he was confident that this was the path he intended to take in life. Today, Choi is one of the most notable players on the Rainbow Warriors offensive line and has demonstrated his persistence over his last five years as a member of the team.

“As a kid growing up in Hawaii playing football, you kind of idolize the UH football team,” Choi said. “This island is so small, and there’s not a ton of opportunities to make it to the next level, especially if you’re looking to stay on the island. I grew up watching the guys play every single Saturday, and hoping that one day I’d be able to make the team. UH was the only school I applied to out of high school and I had a preferred walk-on spot.”

However it has not always been a smooth-sailing ride for him. As Choi has been on the team longer than most, he has faced his fair share of adversity throughout the past five years. The biggest struggle being three different head coaches.

“My third and fourth years of college were extremely rough for me,” he said. “Switching from head coach to head coach made it really difficult to perform consistently. Each coach is different, has a different teaching style and expects different things out of his players. I spent a lot of time trying to adapt to the different needs of each coach. Now, I’m so grateful that Timmy Chang is our coach. He knows what it means to be a Rainbow Warrior more than anybody. He has a deep understanding of the game and what it means to all of us.”

Representing his home by playing the sport he loves is incredibly significant and sentimental for him. Choi takes a great deal of pride in being from the islands and is grateful that he has been able to perpetuate his love for both his home and the game each and every Saturday during the fall season for the last five years. Not only does he bring his passion to the field, but also his undeniable talent. Last year alone, Choi completed 34 tackles and was one of 73 nominees across the country to be selected for the Burlsworth Trophy, presented each year to the best college football player who started his career as a walk-on.

“Hawaii is my home. This is my state, my team, my family. It means everything to me to play for this institution,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without football. The memories, experiences and all of the people I’ve met due to football are some of the most important in my life.  I’m beyond grateful and don’t regret a single moment.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Mānoa Mirror Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *