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Aizik Mahuka: The meteoric rise of a star linebacker

By: Annaliese Gumboc

When Aizik Mahuka was promoted to Aiea’s varsity team, his knowledge of football was quite limited. Just “how to run the ball and how to catch the ball,” he said with a laugh. 

In his sophomore year, Aizik had never experienced a full season of tackle football. Initially anticipating a year on the junior varsity squad, he found himself unexpectedly called up due to anomalous circumstances. With a resurgence of COVID-19, the Na Aliʻi had suffered losses in their varsity roster, prompting them to seek replacements wherever they could.

Aizik, the eldest son of a wrestler and a football player, possessed remarkable athleticism but lacked substantial football experience. Despite being familiar with the sport through his father, he spent his formative years playing baseball. It wasn’t until around seventh grade, during a break from baseball, that his interest in the gridiron was piqued. When he decided to give football a shot, he did so without any grand aspirations of playing at the college or NFL level – he simply found it intriguing. Consequently, when he was thrust onto Aiea’s varsity team as a tenth-grader, he found himself entirely unprepared, as his opportunity to play in his eighth and ninth-grade years was unexpectedly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was scared,” said Aizik, recalling a three-way scrimmage held before the season. “We were JV, so we went first…It was alright, and then I watched the varsity. I was like, ‘I’m good, I’m gonna stay on JV, I’m not ready for how fast and hard these guys hit.’ But I had no choice. I had to move up.”  

As the 2021 season kicked off, Aizik was thrust into the lineup, taking on roles as both a linebacker and a running back. “They just put me there,” he said. “I didn’t really know nothing about it. And the coaches would get mad at me because I didn’t remember my plays and I didn’t understand the concepts of the game. All I knew was ‘blitz A Gap’ and ‘run A Gap’.”

Aizik feels he didn’t meet his own expectations in his inaugural year with the Na Ali’i, but his stats were remarkable considering his limited experience in tackle football. In his very first game, Aizik was credited with one touchdown, one interception, one fumble recovery, and 6.5 tackles, including one sack and two for loss. Although his performance tapered off in subsequent games, he still tallied 12 tackles over the six-game season, as reported by ScoringLive.

After his sophomore season, Aizik spent time reflecting on the experience. “I enjoyed it,” he said. “I was, you know, shocked at the level of intensity and everything about it, and just wanted to learn…and so I started from the basics. I had to learn everything to learn about football. And I did my best to train in preparation for my junior year.”

Believing his peers had a head start, Aizik was highly motivated to make significant improvements during the offseason. “It really drove me to know that I had to catch up and that I was late on everything and that there were really no days off,” he said. “I had to work really hard, you know, building up to my junior year.” 

Throughout his journey, Aizik was supported by his family and his faith in God. “[God] blessed me with a supportive family that, no matter what, always pick me up, and critique me, and help me to be the best,” he said. “My dad, he showed me the tough love and, you know, always made me feel like I shouldn’t ever settle. And I just took what he gave me and tried to build and be better at it.” 

Photo: Lori McKeown

As he entered his junior year, Aizik had gained a much deeper understanding of the game. His diligent efforts had paid off. Starting as a middle linebacker, Aizik amassed an impressive 38 tackles in league games alone. In the OIA D1 championships, he made a standout contribution with seven tackles and an interception.

Already feeling on top of the world, Aizik was taken aback when he received his first college offer. It was a moment of surprise for him, as he had never seriously considered college football before. “I didn’t know much about offers, I didn’t know nothing about the benefits of football,” Aizik laughed. The recruitment process was entirely new to him. 

Following this, Aizik actively participated in camps to attract the attention of scouts. Before he knew it, he was receiving offers from more than eleven schools, including Hawaii, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and West Point. In the span of just one year, Aizik had evolved from a novice with little knowledge to become one of the most sought-after linebackers in the state.

“This whole process, it was crazy to me,” said Aizik. “I really want to give God all the glory because, you know, he helped me through all of this. It was just shocking, to come from nothing, you know, not really knowing nothing about football.”

Now in his senior year of high school, Aizik is a vastly different player from his first season just two years ago. Having transferred to Mililani to compete in the OIA Open, he’s already amassed an impressive 10.5 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in just four games. During this span, Mililani dominated opponents, outscoring them 179-31, and even holding Saint Louis to a single field goal. From someone who initially had no plans for football, Aizik now harbors big dreams: he’s gunning for the title of Gatorade Player of the Year and aspires to play in the NFL someday.

Photo: Lori McKeown

“I trust myself and I know I can continue to get better and continue to build,” he said. “Especially these colleges nowadays, you know, all of these programs, they all push out good players to the NFL, and that’s a goal for me: to get to college and hopefully to the next level.”

Indeed, Aizik’s transformation in such a short span is truly remarkable. “I look back at my film all the time and it’s like, ‘Dang! That’s terrible,’” he said, referring to his sophomore year. But while Aizik may have changed as a player, he has always remained humble, selfless, faithful, and most of all, grateful.

“I see football as a tool, for anybody out there, you know—whatever sport that they take serious, it’s a tool to give back,” Aizik said. “I just feel like football is a blessing from up above, to be able to use it to serve my family.”