KAHUKU, Hawaii (BVM) – Kainoa Carvalho spent countless gamedays on the Kahuku sidelines as a kid. A water boy in fourth grade for the football team, Carvalho’s uncle was Kahuku’s head coach at the time and kept his nephew close to the Red Raiders.
“I was always around the Kahuku football team and he would always bring me around; I was the waterboy, the ball boy,” Carvalho said. “I grew up watching all these Kahuku greats and those guys used to be my role models.”
By the time Carvalho reached high school, he was ready to become one of the Kahuku greats he grew up marveling at. But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 threw a wrench into those plans and caused Carvalho to relocate to Skyridge High School in Utah for his sophomore year.
The move was a massive adjustment on many fronts. Carvalho was without his immediate family for the first time, living with cousins in the area. It was also Carvalho’s first introduction to varsity football after starring for Kahuku’s junior varsity squad as a freshman.
“That’s where I really grew as a person,” Carvalho said. “I really had to mature and just grow up. I was also playing at the varsity level for the first time so the speed was much different. They really taught me how to really play the game, all the little details and film study.”
That experience on the mainland prepared Carvalho for his return to Kahuku ahead of the 2021 season, and he did not disappoint.
The versatile playmaker dazzled wherever he was utilized, whether it was at wide receiver, kick returner, running back or even placekicker. He caught 79 passes for 1,127 yards and 12 touchdowns while returning five kicks (three kickoffs and two punts) for scores. Carvalho also rushed 10 times for 93 yards and another TD but perhaps most impressive, made 45 PAT kicks and two field goals while giving Kahuku an advantage in the kicking game all season long.
Honored to say I have broken a 37 year old school record for most receiving yards in a game! Mahalo to my teammates. 10rec 194yds 2TDs. @BrandonHuffman @Coach_TChang @JackDamuni @CoachPowell99 @CoachOmura @RMatviko @Tana_Vea @Tahj__ @kefenseh @coachsamelliott @AaronAmaama pic.twitter.com/J1Q8gQCVyP
— Kainoa (kaikai) Carvalho (@CarvalhoKainoa) November 18, 2021
“I think I’m just electric and explosive,” Carvalho said. “Every time I touch the ball, I just try to make a big play and wow the fans so I feel like my game is different from all these other guys because I’m the smallest one on the field but I make the biggest plays.”
Carvalho’s comment about being “the smallest one on the field” isn’t hyperbole. He stands just 5-foot-7 and weighs a modest 160 pounds, but none of that mattered in the HHSAA Open Division championship game.
Squaring off against four-time defending HHSAA Open Division champion Saint Louis, Carvalho put his elite versatility on full display. He caught six passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also sent three kickoffs out of the endzone for touchbacks, returned a Saint Louis kickoff 31 yards and nailed all seven of his PAT attempts. The well-rounded performance helped fuel a 49-14 beatdown of Saint Louis and gave Kahuku (10-0) its first state title since 2015.
It's the Kainoa Carvalho show and we are here to watch. 16-yard TD grab gives him 135 yards on six catches. Kahuku 42, Saint Louis 14, 5:42, Q3. pic.twitter.com/aD2JaRmiff
— Billy Hull (@billyhull) December 24, 2021
“It was really special, especially for this community,” Carvalho said. “They didn’t have a season for two years so just coming in, they didn’t really know what to expect and there were a lot of doubters out there so we just wanted to show what we could do. Bringing it home to this community is something special, especially for this school. We celebrate like no other, like we just won the national championship so it’s crazy.”
The celebration continued into the new year when Carvalho received national recognition for his spectacular junior campaign. The Kahuku star was named the 2021-22 Gatorade Hawaii Football Player of the Year, an honor that “means everything.”
“Seeing that was just something amazing,” Carvalho said. “Being named the top of the top is truly an honor.”
Waianae High School head coach Matt Murakawa had high praise for Carvalho and spoke to just how lethal the Kahuku star was this season.
“As an opposing coach, I can say that Carvalho is the one person we always accounted for when he was on the field,” Murakawa said in a Gatorade press release. “What makes him special is he still made plays that swung the game in Kahuku’s favor. It’s one thing to have great stats, but it is special when every team knows he is getting the ball and he is still able to make plays.”
Despite the special season and national honor, Carvalho just picked up his first Division I offer.
After a great phone call with @CoachPowell99 I am excited to say I have received a full ride scholarship offer to play football at the University of Utah! Thank you to all my teammates and the coaching staff at Utah for believing in me. @AaronAmaama @bangulo @BrandonHuffman pic.twitter.com/ujjV1X28zQ
— Kainoa (kaikai) Carvalho (@CarvalhoKainoa) January 7, 2022
Carvalho’s father went to Utah and played for the Utes in the 1990s as a walk-on, but the Gatorade POY wants more. Carvalho said his recruiting has been slow, most notably due to his height, but things have picked up since the Utah offer.
“It’s all coming along now,” Carvalho said. “For Utah to offer and finally look over that (height), it really means a lot. I just want to inspire all those little kids and all the undersized guys out there that it’s still possible. If you just have heart, anything is possible.”