Wynden Ho’ohuli has seen snow once in his life. He’s never been to Lincoln.
Yet the consensus four-star linebacker who lives almost 3,800 miles from his future college still chose Nebraska on Saturday in a ceremony broadcast live on NBC. Ho’ohuli becomes the first high school football prospect from Hawaii to join the Huskers in more than two decades.
Nebraska went a long way to get him, he said on national television. Daily conversations with the staff — spearheaded by defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, who played college football and coached high schoolers in the state — built the trust and family atmosphere he was looking for. He chose the Huskers over finalists Kansas State, Washington and Utah.
“Just believing what they say and believing everything they tell me as a player and as what I can do as a student over there in Lincoln,” Ho’ohuli said during the broadcast.
NU hasn’t added many players between the early and traditional signing periods in three previous offseasons under coach Scott Frost, but Ho’ohuli is one of the most high-profile. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, the state’s No. 1 prospect in the 2021 class is also a unanimous top-200 overall player, according to recruiting services.
Nebraska and Tuioti have been in contact with the defender since before they offered him a scholarship in May 2019. He becomes the Huskers’ second-highest-rated recruit in the class and 21st overall, joining 19 other prep signees along with graduate transfer Chris Kolarevic (Northern Iowa).
The addition bumped the Huskers four spots to No. 20 nationally in the 247Sports recruiting class rankings, passing Iowa and Penn State. Ho’ohuli picked up the Nebraska hat with no preamble as his parents and four siblings cheered from nearby.
“They’re going to miss me a lot, I know they are,” he said. “But it’s just bigger and better things going on. Just gotta provide for the family and do great things.”
Hawaii was one of a handful of states that didn’t play high school football in the fall and may have its postponed season — still tenuously set to start in January — canceled entirely. Ho’ohuli played as a sophomore at powerhouse Saint Louis School before transferring about 20 miles north of Honolulu to Mililani High his junior year. It’s the same program that produced recent standout quarterbacks McKenzie Milton (recruited by Frost to UCF) and Dillon Gabriel (current UCF player).
Ho’ohuli told one recruiting service last week that he didn’t sign anywhere in December, meaning he won’t be able to make his decision official until Feb. 3, when the traditional signing period begins.
He will be the fifth linebacker in Nebraska’s 2021 class, joining prep defenders Randolph Kpai (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Mikai Gbayor (Irvington, N.J.) and Seth Malcom (Fremont-Mills) in addition to Kolarevic. Coupled with the announced return of senior outside linebacker JoJo Domann later in the day, Saturday was a landmark 24 hours for Husker linebackers.
Mililani coach Rod York said an elite football IQ sets Ho’ohuli apart from his peers. He often thought Ho’ohuli — who played both inside and outside linebacker as well as safety in 2019 — knew what play was coming before it began. The big, speedy teen is always around the ball and frequently wreaked havoc as a blitzer.
“When we needed a pick, a turnover, he’d get the pick,” York said. “When we needed a stop, he’d be the guy to get the tackle for loss. He just made plays at the right time, key times, that allowed us to win games. We didn’t have much of an offense (in 2019), but because of his leadership, our defense kept us in a lot of games.”
Even as the pandemic wiped out the fall season, York said Ho’ohuli proves daily the kind of leader and player he is. With Mililani coaches unable to coordinate workouts, the senior captain leads team practices and trains with other top prospects on the side.
“I call him the silent assassin,” York said. “He’s a quiet guy. He talks with his actions, talks with his pads. He’s a great teammate, heck of a kid to coach. I wish we had more Wyndens.
He’s a team guy, that’s probably what makes him more special is he’s humble. He’s an animal on the field, though — he’s pretty intense. Off the field, he’s a gentle giant.”
Nebraska still has four openings in its 2021 class and likely will fill another before February, as Frost indicated last month. NU continues to pursue Las Vegas Desert Pines defensive lineman Tia Savea, who announced finalists of Nebraska, USC and UCLA. Hawaii native and uncommitted D-lineman Zhen-Keith Sotelo has been another prospect the Huskers recruited.
Signee Spotlights: Get to know the players in Nebraska football's 2021 recruiting class
The "Signee Spotlight" provides all the information you need on the newest batch of Huskers, including rankings, evaluations and a look at how they landed at Nebraska.
Get to know new Husker football signee Mikai Gbayor, an inside linebacker from New Jersey who already seems physically ready to play in the Big Ten.
Get to know new Husker football signee Marques Buford, who's coming to Nebraska from a prep school in Connecticut and found the Huskers through a connection to a childhood friend.
Get to know new Husker football signee Heinrich Haarberg, an athletic quarterback who comes from within Nebraska's borders.
Get to know new Husker football signee Jailen Weaver, a 6-foot-9, 300-pound defensive end from California who's main goal is to try to humiliate blockers on his way to the quarterback.
Get to know new Husker football signee Teddy Prochazka, a towering offensive lineman from Elkhorn South who has the skills to be ranked among the nation's top prospects.
Get to know new Husker football signee James Carnie, a tight end from Norris High School who landed a scholarship offer from Nebraska off the strength of his senior season.
Get to know new Husker football signee Seth Malcom, an eight-man football star from southwest Iowa who said it was "very clear" that Nebraska was right for him.
Get to know new Husker football signee AJ Rollins, the Creighton Prep standout who could be a speedy and athletic tight end for Nebraska. "The sky’s the limit for him."
Get to know new Husker football signee Randolph Kpai, a versatile linebacker who comes from a South Dakota high school that has a track record of producing Nebraska football players.
Get to know new Husker football signee Henry Lutovsky, a massive offensive lineman from Iowa who has big-time potential.
Get to know new Husker football signee Thomas Fidone, a four-star prospect out of Council Bluffs who ranks as one of the top recruits in the nation.
Get to know new Husker football signee Latrell Neville, a wide receiver from the Houston area who fits the mold of what the Huskers want in their pass-catchers.
Get to know new Husker football signee Kamonte Grimes, a wide receiver from Florida who should be a formidable threat in the red zone for Nebraska.
Get to know new Husker football signee Branson Yager, an offensive lineman from Utah who has all the tools necessary to play in the Big Ten.
Get to know new Husker football signee Koby Bretz, who won a state title with Omaha Westside and has a background doing gymnastics and diving, which makes him an all-around athlete.
Get to know new Husker football signee Gabe Ervin, who comes from a powerhouse high school program Georgia and is the lone running back in Nebraska's 2021 recruiting class.
Get to know new Husker football signee Ru'Quan Buckley, a 6-foot-6, 280-pounder from Michigan who most schools recruited to play offensive tackle, but Nebraska likes him for the defensive line.
Get to know new Husker football signee Shawn Hardy, a receiver from Georgia with a 4.0 grade-point average and enough speed to be the vertical threat Nebraska needs.
Get to know new Husker football signee Malik Williams, a cornerback out of Georgia whom coaches say "is the total package" for his position.