Feature story on R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane

Hawai’i’s version of Iron Man, unlike his cinematic counterpart, derives his drive from his own heart.

“He has so much passion and energy for the game,” UH linebackers coach Cal Lee said of fourth-year junior R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane.

Kiesel-Kauhane, who will start his third consecutive game Saturday against Nevada, credits his football development to his dependency on iron.

When he was in the eighth grade, encouraged by both his father (Richard Kauhane) and step-father (Charles Ka’ahanui), Kiesel-Kauhane began weight training. He started by using a weight set in the back of Ka’ahanui’s house.

Ka’ahanui then enrolled Kiesel-Kauhane in a weight-training program administered by the ‘Aiea 4-H Club.

One of the club’s elders emphasized core training.

“He used to make me do upside-down crunches,” Kiesel-Kauhane remembered. “It was all abs, abs, abs. He said, ‘if your abs are weak, the other stuff won’t matter.’ He always made sure we did abs first before we did other things.”

As an ‘Aiea High School junior, Kiesel-Kauhane bench pressed 300 pounds for the first time.

“I didn’t think about that,” Kiesel-Kauhane said. “I wanted to beat 400 (pounds). My step-dad always told me, ‘You need to do 400 before you finish high school.’ ”

He reached that milestone during his senior year.

“It was a rush,” Kiesel-Kauhane said of the 400-pound bench press.

It also was mathematically remarkable. At the time, Kiesel-Kauhane weighed 195 pounds.

Kiesel-Kauhane, who is now 5 feet 11 and 225 pounds, maintained his iron diet at UH. In March, he bench pressed 455 pounds, tying defensive end David Veikune for the heaviest lift among the Warriors.

He believes a 500-pound bench press “is possible. That’s my goal.”

The bench marks, it is believed, helped Kiesel-Kauhane ascend the depth chart. He became one of the top members of the special-team units last year.

This season, a series of injuries and shifts helped Kiesel-Kauhane break into the starting lineup.

His cousin, outside linebacker Blaze Soares, suffered a calf injury during training camp. Solomon Elimimian moved from the middle to the outside. Brashton Satele then became the middle linebacker. When outside linebacker Adam Leonard missed the Fresno State game because of a leg injury, Kiesel-Kauhane made his first start since 2004, when he was an ‘Aiea senior.

Satele’s shoulder injury set off a chain reaction in which Elimimian moved back to the middle and Kiesel-Kauhane remained in the lineup at the outside linebacker position opposite Leonard.

“He did it the right way,” head coach Greg McMackin said. “He’s a program guy. He showed he can make plays on special teams. Then he got some looks on defense. Then he made plays there, and now he moves up. He’s a great character guy.”

McMackin praised Lee for helping Kiesel-Kauhane “work on his technique. He’s turned into a really good linebacker. He’s a hard-working tough kid. His lifting made him faster and stronger.”

Kiesel-Kauhane said: “I paid my dues, I guess you could say. But I still have to get my confidence and playing ability up.”

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