The name, like his game, is truly unique.
But to understand what makes Kekupa’a Freehauf so successful on Friday evenings in the fall, you first must understand the Central Catholic High School middle linebacker’s morning ritual.
Freehauf sleeps on a mattress on the floor. No box spring. No bed frame. He has traded creature comfort for convenience.
Sleeping on the floor, you see, allows him to roll out of bed in pushup position. Yes, pushup position. After he’s knocked out about 50, raising and lowering his 240-pound frame, Freehauf heads out for a jog. Yes, a jog.
All those pushups, all those miles, all of that sacrifice were confirmed Friday in a 28-6 victory over Manteca.
There have been a lot of great linebackers that have come through Central. To have that said about us is just incredible. It puts a little bit of pressure on us, though. He’s throwing our names up there with the greats that have come out of here.
Kekupa’a Freehauf, Central Catholic middle linebacker, on praise from defensive coordinator Billy Hylla
Central Catholic defensive coordinator Billy Hylla reached into a plastic bag and flipped a black practice jersey to the hulking linebacker. Freehauf snatched the jersey with the same vigor and swiftness that he gobbled up Manteca ballcarriers.
The jersey might not look like much, but it means everything to Freehauf, a team captain and the Stanislaus District’s top returning tackler.
“When you stop by Central Catholic and you see those players with those black jerseys, you know those are the players that lead the defense,” Freehauf said. “Everyone on the defense knows when those guys say something, everyone follows.”
Hylla started awarding the jerseys to the defense last season. He had four made, and they recognize excellence on and off the field. The players keep the jersey as long as they embody the ideals set forth by Hylla, now in his fifth year as defensive coordinator.
Freehauf has no intention of giving back the jersey, which bears the words “desire,” “discipline” and “dedication.”
“Our defense’s mentality is based on those three D’s, and tonight was no different,” said Freehauf, who had eight tackles. “We wanted to come out and show it. We were honored to have those black jerseys awarded tonight.”
Hylla waited until after the Raiders’ first real test in the Valley Oak League to break them out. His defense answered the bell, limiting the Buffaloes’ explosive offense to a season-low point total. Central Catholic sacked Manteca quarterbacks Dakarai Charles and Gino Campiotti six times.
In four league games, the three-time CIF state small-school champion has allowed just 29 points, raising its level of play to match a league teeming with Division III powers. In eight of the 11 games since the Raiders joined the VOL, the defense has limited teams to 17 or fewer points.
9.6 Tackles Kekupa’a Freehauf averaged per game last season.
“If you look at the last couple of years, we do get better as the year goes on. That’s been our MO,” Hylla said. “We had a hiccup against Oakdale last year (a 48-28 loss), but we have gotten better as the year goes on.
“Our defense requires checks and adjustments week to week. We tell the kids, ‘It’s like a final. You go through the semester working on different concepts. At the end, you have the test and you do a little bit of everything.’ The more we see, the more we understand.”
When that cerebral sense marries the Raiders’ physicality, especially at the linebacker position, watch out.
Linebackers Austin Escobar (nine tackles) and Montell Bland (seven tackles, pass deflection) and injured safety Josh Frowein also were awarded black jerseys.
Hylla said Freehauf and Escobar are the best combination of middle linebackers he’s coached at Central Catholic. Such praise puts them in a class that includes Stanford scholarship player Craig Jones; Oregon tight end Johnny Mundt; Blake Escobar, Austin’s older brother; Reggie Bland; Byron Storer, a former player and coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and James Bogetti, who played at Sacramento State.
“It’s their physical size. They’re big boys and very athletic,” Hylla said. “Pa’a is a physical freak, and Austin is one of the most cerebral players I’ve ever been around. If I were to miss a game for whatever reason, he could call the game.”
While Escobar controls the game with his mind, Freehauf takes a blunt approach to the position. At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, he often overpowers his opponent.
He averaged 9.6 tackles per game last fall, finishing with a Stanislaus District-best 135 stops. He’s on pace for another 100-tackle season.
“There have been a lot of great linebackers that have come through Central. To have that said about us is just incredible,” Freehauf said. “It puts a little bit of pressure on us, though. He’s throwing our names up there with the greats that have come out of here.
“At the same time, mine and Austin’s goal is to be the best we can be. We’ve certainly come along and shown that we deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.”
Central Catholic Kekupa’a Freehauf is the Stanislaus District’s top returning tackler with 135 stops last fall, but he had company on the final leaderboard. Mariposa’s Jake Williams had 127 tackles, while Ripon Christian’s Seth Silveira was in on 121 tackles.
Now in his third year at the varsity level, Freehauf’s strength has become the stuff of legend, from his morning workout routine to the block of ice he Hulk-smashed on the sideline of the Holy Bowl.
While a group of Raiders reserves picked at the edges of a block of ice, shaping it so it could fit into the water container, Freehauf happened by. His body fatigued from playing both ways against a Division II power (St. Mary’s), Freehauf drove his fist through the block, sending it splashing into the water in pieces.
“He’s wired like you want a linebacker to be wired,” Hylla said. “Some people would say the things he does are odd, but that’s just the way he is. He’s one of those kids, if I hear a story like that, I’m more apt to believe it’s actually true.
“He’s a physical freak with that speed and that size. He’s truly unique.”