Local Talent Standing Tall on NFL Stage


UH Athletics

Ashley Lelie played wide reciever for Hawaii from 1999 to 2001 before being drafted by the Denver Broncos with the 19th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

Even though Hawaii is recognized as being the 10th smallest state as far as population and sometimes overlooked, the recent successes with Marcus Mariota, DeForest Buckner, and Tua Tagovailoa has brightened the spotlight to shine on the island chain, although it should’ve been shining all along with Hawaii’s previous talented players. The pipeline of athletes from Hawaii to the NFL has been free-flowing for generations. The islands have had more than its share of incredibly outstanding participants in the game. The following is my quick glimpse into the all-time great performers to ever strap it up on the professional stage with Hawaii ties.

UH Athletics
Hawaii’s Jesse Sapolu still remains the only player from the islands to have won four Super Bowl rings.

Jesse Sapolu (Guard, Drafted in Round 11 with the 289th pick in 1983 by the San Francisco 49ers)

Manase Jesse Sapolu attended Farrington High School and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing 271 pounds, the offensive lineman was a four-year letterman for the Rainbows from 1979-82. He is also a three-time all-WAC selection and was named team MVP in 1982. Sapolu was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 11th round of the 1983 NFL Draft. He played both center and offensive guard throughout his entire pro career for the 49ers. During his 14 seasons with San Francisco he was a member of four Super Bowl Championship winning teams. Sapolu was a two-time NFL Pro Bowl participant (1993, 1994) and a two-time All-Pro selection (1994, 1995). Although he was not the biggest player, he made up for it with his speed and tenacity. Sapolu will always be known throughout Hawaii as being one of the important contributors in protecting the great Joe Montana during the San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl dynasty.

Olin Kreutz (Center, Drafted in Round three with the 64th pick in 1998 by the Chicago Bears)

Olin George Kreutz played his prep football at powerhouse Saint Louis High School in Honolulu. After graduation he attended the University of Washington playing center for the Huskies where he was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American after his junior year. Kreutz was selected 64th overall in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. According to Sports Illustrated he was the No.1 center available in the draft. The 6-foot-2-inch, 293 pound offensive lineman proved to be one of the most consistent Bears, starting in 182 games, second to only the “late, great” Hall of Famer Walter Payton. Kreutz till this day holds the team record for the most games played by an offensive lineman and was named to the Hall of Fame’s All-2000’s second team. Throughout his 13 seasons with Chicago he was selected to six Pro Bowls and once as a first-team All-Pro.

Ashley Lelie (Wide receiver, Drafted 19th overall in 2002 by the Denver Broncos)

Ashley Jovon Lelie graduated from Radford High School in Honolulu and went on to play college football at the University of Hawaii. Lelie was one of the most outstanding wide receivers ever to suit up as a Warrior. During his time playing for Hawaii he racked up 3,341 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns. Lelie was drafted by the Denver Broncos with the 19th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-3-inch, 200 pound athlete is still the highest draft selection ever out of any UH Manoa player. Lelie had a rare combination of size and speed to go along with his great ability to catch the football. He played seven years in the NFL totaling 107 games. The standout receiver averaged an amazing 17.3 yards per reception for his career totaling 3,749 yards.

Chris Naeole (Guard, Drafted 10th overall in 1997 by the New Orleans Saints)

Christopher Kealoha Naeole was raised in Kahuku on the North Shore of Oahu. Naeole, the 6-foot-3-inch, 328 pound offensive lineman went on to play college football for the University of Colorado, where he became a consensus All-American allowing just one sack in his three seasons of play. He was drafted with the 10th overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1997. Naeole played for the team through 2001, and was a starter throughout his time with the Saints. Upon becoming an unrestricted free agent he then signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he would retire. The stud offensive guard played a total of 11 years in the NFL and missed just a single game. His durability and toughness proves that he is one of the best players ever to come out of Hawaii.

Kurt Gouveia (Linebacker, Drafted in Round eight with the 213th pick in 1986 by the Washington Redskins)

Waianae High School’s Kurt Keola Gouveia played 14 seasons of professional football, one of which was with the XFL. The Brigham Young graduate was selected by the Washington Redskins in the eighth round of 1986 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-1-inch, 233 pound middle linebacker went on to become a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Redskins. Gouveia played in 184 games racking up 819 career tackles alongside his 12 interceptions and eight forced fumbles. He was known as a smart aggressive player who seemed to know where the ball was at all times on the field. The athletic linebacker was extremely successful winning championships at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels of competition.