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After decommitting from Cal, Kakala inks with Harvard

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Flanked by his parents Fehi and Roy Kakala along with siblings, Harvard-bound lineman Justin Kakala signed his National Letter of Intent at the Manteca High cafeteria Wednesday.


POSTED December 21, 2017 2:35 a.m.

Justin Kakala called Cal his “dream school,” so he jumped at the opportunity to commit to the prestigious Pac-12 school’s football program last April.

Over the summer, he was presented with another option, one that he absolutely could not pass up. Manteca High’s standout 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end had a change of heart, and on Wednesday he made good on his new commitment by signing his National Letter of Intent to play for Harvard at the MHS cafeteria.

“Harvard wasn’t in the picture at the time (of him committing to Cal), but when they came around I kind of put things in perspective,” Kakala said. “I felt like Harvard would give me a better chance of going to medical school and becoming an orthopedic surgeon. That was mainly the reason behind it.”

Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships, but Kakala will have much of the costs covered by an academic scholarship. While he has impressive stats on the football field, he boasts a 3.9 grade point average in the classroom.

“He’s definitely not a dumb jock,” Manteca coach Eric Reis when addressing Kakala’s many supporters Wednesday. “He offers a lot of insight on things.”

Kakala was honored to share the moment with those who have impacted his life. He didn’t get too far into his speech as he was overcome by emotion, finally saying, “I’ll just tweet you guys later.”

“Last week was the moment I got really excited because I got my official acceptance letter,” he said. “Experiencing this with all these people is great, but I was kind of bummed because my speech was ruined. I had so many things planned in my head but I couldn’t get out.”

Kakala has accomplished much in his three-year varsity career at Manteca, twice earning All-Valley Oak League first-team honors while helping the Buffaloes garner back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section championships. He finished his senior campaign with 79 tackles (18 for losses) and 2 ½ sacks. As a junior, he compiled 56 tackles, 11 sacks, forced three fumbles, blocked two punts and blocked a field goal.

Kakala joins a Harvard squad that went 3-4 in the Ivy League and 5-5 overall this past season. Head coach Tim Murphy, who enters his 25th season, is Harvard’s all-time winningest coach with nine Ivy League titles, including three in succession from 2013-2015.

“I went over there this summer and everything was great,” Kakala said. “The weather was perfect and the people were nice. It’s not the stereotypical Harvard type you get when you hear that name. They’re very humble and down-to-earth people and that’s what I really liked about it.

“Three coaches came down in the past month and I got to know them a lot more. I’m just excited to go out there and start a new chapter in my life.”

It has been an eventful run for the Kakala family. Last year, Justin’s sister Loretta became the first Manteca Unified student to earn a spot on the McDonald’s All-America team and signed with Louisville, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation.

“Finally, I get to step out of my sister’s shadow,” Justin joked. “I’m still probably in it. She’s always been the athlete in our family, but I’m really proud of her and I can’t wait to see her tonight when she visits. This is a dream come true, not just for me but for my family and a lot of other people I know. I’m very thankful for it.”

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