Tim Kamana grew up donning the green-and-white of his father’s alma mater on fall Saturdays as they watched Michigan State football from paradise five time zones away.
He could only imagine as a kid who lived in Hawaii the emotions of running out of the Spartan Stadium tunnel and onto the lush green Midwestern turf. Twice in high school he attended Michigan State summer football camps, where he could at least dreamily trace the path the Spartans take on game days.
His father Carter Kamana ran those steps from 1981 to 1984 when he played for the Spartans as the last recruit in the Hawaiian Pipeline started by Duffy Daugherty in 1955. Muddy Waters revived the pipeline severed for seven years when he took over the program in 1980 and landed Carter as a defensive back, but Waters’ tenure was a short three years; Carter remains the last of the Michigan State Hawaiians.
“I watched a lot of Michigan State games with my Dad,” Tim said. “My Dad’s twin brother (John) played at USC. Those were the teams I watched growing up – Michigan State and USC.”
Now in a script the late Daugherty must be editing while perched atop a rainbow overlooking Waialae Country Club -- home to the Hawaiian Open and where he had an honorary membership on recruiting visits -- Kamana will actually run those steps out of the tunnel – albeit from the visiting locker room.
Kamana, Wyoming’s 5-11, 196-pound redshirt freshman strong safety from Honolulu Punahou, and the Cowboys (3-1) face No. 9-ranked Michigan State (2-1) Saturday for the Spartans’ homecoming date. He may even make his first career start, according to Cowboys coach Craig Bohl.
“O-o-h, that will be an unreal to make my first collegiate start against a Top 10 team at Spartan Stadium,” Kamana said. “My Dad played there; I went to camps there; I watched so many games on TV. That will be an unreal experience.”
Kamana was a special teams and backup player for the first four contests, including 20 snaps in Wyoming’s 48-14 loss at No. 2 Oregon. He is coming off a career-high five tackles in a 20-19 win over Florida Atlantic last week when starter Jesse Sampson went down with a knee injury that may keep him out this week. Kamana replaced Sampson in the second quarter and finished the contest.
“He played a good game and was very physical,” Bohl said. “There is a reasonable chance he will start this week.”
Talk about a homecoming game, Carter Kamana will be back on campus, he will see his son play football and he will visit with his daughter Lia, a Michigan State senior journalism major.
“I have a lot of guys I played with coming to the game, but it’s funny I’ll be in the Wyoming section with tickets from Tim,” said Carter, who confirmed he will be wearing green. “My heart will be pulling for Tim to have a good game, but I want my alma mater to do well.”
Tim added his sister told him she will sit in the Wyoming section if he has a ticket for her.
“Otherwise, she told me will be sitting in the Michigan State student section,” he said, “but rocking her Wyoming gear.”
Carter explained with a laugh:
“That’s my daughter. She’s been in Tim’s cheering section for years. Tim went to Punahou and Lia to Kamehameha, but she’s always cheered for Tim.”
Others in attendance include family friends such former Michigan State All-American fullback Bob Apisa, college football’s first Samoan All-American player as a sophomore in 1965 for the Spartans out of Honolulu Farrington.
Watching on TV from Honolulu will be Tim’s head coach at Punahou, Charles “Kale” Ane, who also is a Michigan State alum. Recruited by Daugherty, Ane was a three-year starting center for the Spartans from 1972-74 before he played seven years in the NFL.
“Tim has the desire to be the best he can be,” Ane said. “His Dad was a great player and uncle was a great player. He wants to live up to that legacy.”
Thanks to the stability of Michigan State’s coaching staff, Kamana will be able look across the field and see several coaches he knows from the summer camps, including head coach Mark Dantono. The Spartans’ eighth-year boss offered Kamana preferred walk-on status, but Tim had his eyes on a scholarship and looked elsewhere.
A couple of factors tempered recruiting interest in Kamana. He broke his leg as a junior when colleges use film as part of their recruiting push; there was none on Kamana. He also was only 17 years old and 175 pounds when he graduated from high school.
He first committed to West Point and enrolled in the Army prep school, but like many Army enrollees, he decided a military future wasn’t for him.
Kamana transferred to Wyoming, which had recruited him hard out of high school under former head coach Dave Christensen, who was fired after the 2013 season. Bohl took over the program and Kamana soon made an impression. One of his spring highlights was a 73-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Brown-and-Gold game.
Since Kamana’s transfer and redshirt season, natural maturity and weight training have added 20 pounds to his frame.
When he committed to Wyoming, no one in the Kamana family was disappointed to look up the Cowboys’ future schedules and see a trip scheduled to Michigan State in 2014. Such family connections may be distraction, but Bohl isn’t worried about Kamana.
“Most of the time coaches and players are living in the present,” Bohl said. “Once the game comes around, you get yourself ready to play schemes and personnel. There may be some excitement for Tim to play at his Dad’s school, but he knows this is a really big game for us and he’s going to be ready.”
Kamana said he’ll be focused for the first snap. He says his father’s low-key personality will help.
“My Dad has always been a reserved guy,” Kamana said. “He hasn’t talked about the game much. I think it’s because he wants me to stay calm and rely on my capability and be confident in myself. He doesn’t bring up the game. He asks me about practice and how I’m feeling.”
Well, sometime after the game he might open up about what he felt watching his son playing football on the lush turf of Spartan Stadium.