Enokk Vimahi says he wouldn’t be at Ohio State right now if not for everything his father did for him on and off the field.
David Vimahi was one of Enokk’s football coaches at Kahuku High School, and he helped his son become one of the top guards in the recruiting class of 2019 by traveling all over the United States – even though they lived in Hawaii – so Enokk could put his talent on display for college football coaches.
“My father, he was the reason why I'm here,” Vimahi said this spring. “Those camps that I was talking about earlier, traveling throughout the country, it was all him with my older brothers, going to each of those camps, him driving from Northern California to Southern California just for the day, and then at 2 a.m. driving back to Northern California from L.A. So it was a sacrifice. It was love. It was respect, discipline. And those are all the things that he instilled in me and my brothers.”
Tragically, David Vimahi died last November after battling a heart condition. But Enokk says the lessons he learned from his father growing up continue to resonate with him.
“Once he was sick, I’ve always started to play for him. But I mean, now that he's not here, it's added motivation, but I also can feel him,” Vimahi said. “I know that sounds really cheesy. But I know like, if I do something wrong, I can just hear his voice. Take a better wide step, or punch with your outside hand first.
“My dad coached me in high school. So he was everything to me. He was the reason why I fell in love with the game.”
Coming to terms with the loss of his father wasn’t easy, especially since it happened during the middle of the football season. Being so far away from home, Vimahi said it didn’t quite hit him that his father was gone until he returned to Hawaii for the funeral. After that, Vimahi returned to Columbus and wouldn’t see his family again until the Rose Bowl.
His mother, Lori, couldn’t help but worry about her son. But she’s filled with gratitude for all the support her son received from his teammates, their families and Ohio State’s coaching staff.
“Everybody has literally surrounded him to help him out and to support him, just because we're so far away from him. He literally has family there now with all of his teammates and their families and how they continue to support him because they know Mom can’t come out as often,” Lori Vimahi told Eleven Warriors.
Lori Vimahi became emotional as she talked about how Ryan Day and his assistants, including former Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, have helped her son deal with losing his father.
“That was one of the most comforting things for me as a mom was because when his father started getting really sick … I wanted to make sure that he had support out there,” Lori said. “And the day that his father passed away, I was able to call his position coach right away. And Coach Day, every time that we spoke to Enokk, he was saying that Coach Day was keeping tabs on him too and just making sure that he was okay. And so I was very, very appreciative for that. They've really taken good care of him, and just surrounded him with the support that he needs.”
“He was everything to me. He was the reason why I fell in love with the game.”– Enokk Vimahi on his late father, David
As Enokk mourned his father’s death, he learned that he needed to lean on his Ohio State teammates, coaches and staff for support. Sharing his emotions with them didn’t come naturally. But doing so enabled him to get through a trying time.
“That was one thing that was hard for me is relying on others. Not totally relying, but just leaning on them in times of trial, in times of need,” Vimahi said. “And I found myself, once I realized I was plateauing, that was when I was talking to Josh Myers, talking to Wyatt Davis and also talking to Dawand (Jones), talking to Thayer (Munford) and Nick (Petit-Frere), the guys that have come before me that may have had a tough spot, but got through it. And they shared with me that it was relying on their brothers. So I took that advice.
“My heart, my mind, it was scattered everywhere. And honestly, that was me trying to rely on others at that point. And not doing that earlier – it could have helped if I opened up earlier.”
Vimahi said he felt like he had to grow up and take more responsibility for himself now that his father is no longer alive. His mother says she’s seen him become more mature over the past seven months.
“Before, it was as if Dad is counseling me and advising me to do this and do that, that type of thing. And now that Dad is not around, he knows what needs to be done,” Lori said. “It's on his shoulders now to execute everything that him and his dad have discussed.”
Now that he has become more comfortable confiding in those around him, Vimahi says he’s feeling more confident than he’s ever felt before in his Ohio State career. And that’s led to improved performance on the practice field.
Through his first three years at Ohio State, Vimahi has played only 158 total snaps and has yet to start a game for the Buckeyes. But Day named Vimahi as an offensive lineman who made a push this spring for a spot in the lineup.
“He's right there, he's doing a good job. He's been through a lot this year and proud of the way he's played the last few practices,” Day said in April. “So if he can keep pushing, then he's a guy that's gonna play.”
Vimahi’s new position coach Justin Frye, whose father also died when he was in college, is impressed by the resiliency Vimahi has shown.
“The guy that just doesn't shut down when you hit that much adversity is really good,” Frye said in May. “He's still growing through it. That’s something I went through that in college at the same age, losing my dad. And there's no timetable where like, ‘Ah, in six months, you're gonna feel better.’ It's a process and everybody works through that. And he's doing a really good job.”
Even with the adversity Vimahi has dealt with in his personal life, he’s continued to bring a positive attitude to practice that has rubbed off on his teammates, according to center Luke Wypler.
“Enokk says he was leaning on us, but I think we were leaning on him, honestly,” Wypler said this spring. “I mean, that kid showed up every day with a smile on his face, ready to work. And that’s someone that I didn't have to, never in my life had to go through what he's had to go through. Seeing him show up every day with a smile and wanted to work, wanted to be here, there's nothing in my life that's going on that's even close. So he says he was leaning on us but I think we were all leaning on him.”
Vimahi has moved back to guard, which he views as his natural position, after serving as a backup tackle in 2021. And he believes the extra time he’s put in on the field and in the film room has allowed him to start performing up to his potential.
“I feel a lot more confident,” Vimahi said. “That's the biggest thing for me with my confidence is it was steadily on the rise and it sort of plateaued through my career, but I can honestly say that it's taking off now. I feel much more comfortable.”
As of now, Vimahi still appears to be an underdog to start on Ohio State’s 2022 offensive line. Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones are the frontrunners to start at guard alongside Wypler and tackles Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones.
That said, Vimahi appears in line to be the Buckeyes’ top backup guard. That could make him the sixth man on Ohio State’s offensive line, as Jackson could potentially move out to tackle or Matt Jones could slide to center if injuries occur at either of those positions.
Vimahi trusts his coaches to ultimately do what’s best for the team when setting the depth chart. But he’s trying to prove this offseason that he belongs on the field.
“That's the confidence I was talking about building day by day,” Vimahi said. “Because at any point the coaches can make a decision, but that's not me. And I have faith in not only me but those five guys and the coaches to all make the right decision. Whatever happens, happens. I'm God-fearing as well, and he has a plan for all of us.”
Lori Vimahi also hopes to see her son play a bigger role on the field this season. But even though his on-field career hasn’t gone the way he envisioned as of yet, she’s grateful for the opportunity he’s had at Ohio State. And she expects him to make his father and his community back in Kahuku proud regardless of how much he playing time he gets.
“He's a small fish in a big pond right now. Just doing what he can,” Lori said. “He knows that he has a lot to do and a lot to prove himself in that. But again, coming from a very small community out here on the north shore in Hawaii, it's a great example of endurance, perseverance and anybody can do this. And to just keep pushing and to just go after their goals and dreams and stuff. So we continue to encourage Enokk with everything that he's doing. But first and foremost, we're also very grateful that he's getting a great education.”