Ohio State doesn’t often recruit players from Hawaii. The travel required to get there and back is a big reason why.
While a trip to Hawaii in January might seem ideal if you have a week to go on vacation, it’s not ideal when you’re a coach in the middle of a busy recruiting season who has to get there and back in just one day. In order to accomplish that, one must fly to Hawaii early in the morning (after taking a connecting flight out of Columbus the night before), then spend only a few hours there before taking an overnight flight back.
No one would make that trip unless he or she believed that what they could do in just a few hours in Hawaii would be worthwhile.
Ohio State wouldn’t make that trip to visit just any recruit, but new Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day decided that grueling travel schedule was worth it for the chance to land Enokk “Inoke” Vimahi.
“We had to go out there and kind of uncover all the stones. So flying out to Hawaii, staying for three hours and getting on a redeye back to Columbus was part of that plan,” Day said last Wednesday on National Signing Day, just minutes after Vimahi announced that he was signing with Ohio State. “We wouldn't just go over to Hawaii if it wasn't a good fit. It was.”
For most of the 2019 recruiting cycle, Ohio State hadn’t pursued Vimahi. Even though he was ranked as the No. 124 overall prospect in the 2019 class and the seventh-best guard, Ohio State had focused its efforts on recruiting offensive linemen who lived a little closer to Columbus.
But after Doug Nester backed off of his commitment following Urban Meyer’s retirement announcement in December, leaving Ohio State with just two offensive linemen for the class of 2019 following the early signing period, the Buckeyes needed to expand their search for talent at the position – and Vimahi was one of the best offensive linemen who remained unsigned.
Fortunately for Ohio State, Vimahi had the opportunity to get to know some of the Buckeyes’ 2019 signees – including the five-star trio of Zach Harrison, Garrett Wilson and fellow offensive lineman Harry Miller – at the All-American Bowl in early January. After receiving positive feedback from those signees, Ohio State’s coaches decided to extend an offer to Vimahi on Jan. 4.
“The feedback we got about him was through the roof, he and his family,” Day said. “And that proved to be true. They thought he'd be a great fit here.”
From there, Ohio State’s efforts to recruit Vimahi picked up quickly, as he was one of just three 2019 prospects – along with fellow offensive linemen Nester and Dawand Jones – that the Buckeyes continued to seriously recruit between the December signing period and the February signing day.
Vimahi was originally planning to announce his commitment to either Notre Dame, Oklahoma or USC at the Polynesian Bowl on Jan. 19, but decided to delay his announcement until National Signing Day, giving him the opportunity to make an official visit to Ohio State one weekend later.
Then, Day made his trip to Hawaii to spend more time with Vimahi and his family and make his last big push for Vimahi to sign with the Buckeyes.
“That really impressed the family,” Sterling Carvalho, Vimahi’s coach at Kahuku High School, told Eleven Warriors. “Who does that? It’s not like they flew from California, just one leg. They had multiple stops. So they were really impressed. This showed that they valued Inoke, and they really wanted him as a player.”
“We had to go out there and kind of uncover all the stones. So flying out to Hawaii, staying for three hours and getting on a redeye back to Columbus was part of that plan.”– Ryan Day on his trip to Hawaii to visit Enokk Vimahi
Ohio State didn’t recruit Vimahi for as long as many other schools did, but the Buckeyes made signing him a top priority in the final month leading up to National Signing Day, and that was enough. It helped that Ohio State didn’t just sell Vimahi on its success on the field, but also on how it could set Vimahi up for success off the field, including the Fisher College of Business and the football team’s Real Life Wednesdays program.
“I felt like they suited all my needs,” Vimahi said in an interview with Red Raider Soul, a website devoted to Kahuku High School athletics. “They have a great business program, particularly finance where I want to major in, and that played a big factor in where I wanted to go. Just choosing the school before the program first, and just making sure that I have a degree.”
A Mormon, Vimahi is also dedicated to his faith, which made it important for him to choose a school that would support him in that regard, as well. Vimahi plans to go on a two-year mission following his first year at Ohio State, which means the Buckeyes will likely be without him for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Day understands that, though, and said Ohio State will not stand in Vimahi’s way if that’s what he decides to do.
“It's something that he and his family will decide kind of at the end of this year and go from there,” Day said. “If they decide that they want to go for a two-year mission, then we'll support that. He'd go away for two years, and then come back.”
Even though the Buckeyes would probably prefer to have Vimahi on campus for the next three to five years without any gap in between, they still recruited him to fill one of their remaining roster spots on their offensive line because they believe in his long-term potential.
“Enokk is a very good athlete,” Day said of Vimahi, whose father played at BYU and whose older brother plays at Utah (though he is currently serving a mission himself). “He's a guy that we think can put on a lot of weight and get stronger. He's super athletic. His father is one of his coaches, and he from a young age has trained him to be an offensive lineman, but has done a lot of things with flexibility, with body weight stuff. And so he's very, very athletic, very agile, and with his lower half, we think he's got the ability to put on a lot of weight.”
Perhaps most importantly, Ohio State believes in who Vimahi is as a person, which Carvalho said was what made the biggest impression on him as he communicated with the Buckeyes’ coaches over the past month.
“They really wanted to know Inoke as a person, rather than Inoke as the player,” Carvalho said. “They were really interested in knowing about Inoke and his family. So that really impressed me that they wanted to know Inoke the man rather than Inoke the football player.”
Carvalho said the person the Buckeyes are getting is “a guy that is very passionate, very humble, respectful and will do whatever he needs to do to help the team.”
“He was a captain of our team, and he’s not a leader by vocalness, he’s a leader by example,” Carvalho said. “He was hurt for a lot of games this year, and instead of him moping … he was on the sideline, he was coaching up the younger players, he was coaching up the current players. Pulling them aside, showing them things that they could do better. So that’s what they’re getting.”
Vimahi is the first-ever scholarship recruit from Hawaii to sign with Ohio State, and considering the aforementioned travel challenges, it isn’t likely that the Buckeyes will make a habit out of recruiting the Pacific islands. Nonetheless, Vimahi’s signing with Ohio State both expands the reach of Ohio State’s brand in the Aloha State and brings more attention to the talent that is being produced in the state, and Carvalho hopes that will lead to more opportunities from major college programs for players from Hawaii going forward.
“All of a sudden, just in the past couple days, people are wearing Ohio State shirts here on the north shore of Oahu,” Carvalho said on Friday, two days after Vimahi’s signing. “So he is forging a path for future generations, and hopefully, this starts a pipeline or at least opens eyes for not just the Pac-12, but to the SEC, the Big Ten and all these other schools out there. So we’re excited for him and going to be supporting not just Inoke, but now, The Ohio State University and their program.”