Coronavirus: Navy slot back in Hawaii fights to keep his eyes open for 3:30 a.m. classes


Each morning, Navy slotback Keoni-Kordell Makekau slides in front of his laptop to take his first class of the day. He’s doing his at home, online and outdoors. That last designation is the benefit of being in his native Hawaii during this time of the coronavirus.

The class begins at 3:30 a.m. local time.

Makekau is among thousands of college students relegated to online classes during this pandemic. That doesn’t make him unique. Being six time zones behind the start of classes each day in Annapolis, Maryland, does.

“It’s a little much for 3:30 in the morning, but I can handle it,” he said.

Navy has tried to accommodate its students on the West Coast by pushing back the beginning of classes to 9:30 a.m. ET (6:30 a.m. PT). But Hawaii isn’t the West Coast. The world’s most isolated population center is three hours behind California.

Welcome to another slice of college football life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Makekau is a 5-foot-11, 175-pound back who is your typical Navy man. That is, he’s a driven overachiever used to being pulled in one direction for the cause.

At military academies, the players aren’t there for football first. They are elite men and women even if they aren’t necessarily elite athletes. There is a five-year military commitment after their playing career is completed.

After spring practice, Makekau was set to embark on a four-week training course for those interested in the Marines.

For now, at least, he’s fighting to keep his eyes open.

That first class on Google Hangouts in the middle of his night is Material Science. Three days a week, as a general engineering major, Makekau is done with his four periods of schoolwork at 7:30 a.m. HST. Classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays last a little longer. Still, it’s kind of cool to be done with school by breakfast.

Makekau had been rising for 1:30 a.m. classes (7:30 a.m. ET) until start times were pushed back. “I’ll take the two [extra] hours,” he said.

Makekau grew up in Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s hometown of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, on Oahu. He played on the same youth team with Tua and UCF QB McKenzie Milton. After getting interest from Washington State and SMU, Makekau was attracted to Navy because the football culture reminded him of his own Iolani High School.

“They’re not really the biggest team on the island,” he said. “We’re kind of like the underdog type of thing. I went to Navy on my recruiting visit, had a good time. I looked over the football team. They were all, like, much smaller than SMU that weekend and they just killed them.

“I thought, ‘This would be perfect for me. Underdog, undersized.’ From that moment on [it was],  ‘You know what? This is the perfect place for me to play football.'”

Makekau started six games last season and was projected to start in the Navy backfield in 2020 as a senior. But with everything on hold, who knows if that senior season will even be played?

“I’m not worried about it impacting the season,” Makekau said. “I feel like the coaches would feel that way. I think, when we get back, we’ll hit [practice] hard.”

But after going home for spring break last month, he was told to stay there after the Naval Academy closed.

“We found out through email,” Makekau said. “We never did think it was going to be that serious when we went on spring break. We thought we were going to be back after a week. The whole thing went wild. Now we’re stuck here for who knows how long.”

“Stuck” in Oahu is a phrase seldom uttered. But life in paradise on lockdown, too.

“I feel sorry for the people who have to be quarantined,” Makekau said. “You don’t want to come to Hawaii and have to be quarantined in your hotel.”

Makekau is inspired by his parents, Sam and Lupe, who continue to work as city bus drivers during the pandemic.

“They’ve got to be ready,” he said. “When I was growing up, they’d do everything — midnight, mornings, nighttime. They can wake up at 1 in the morning and go to work. If they can do it, I can do it.

“They’re still working right now with the virus going around.”





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