By Tori Mason
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – Kalepo Noatala’s football career at the University of Hawaii is on hold after he dove head-first into shallow water in July.
The 19-year-old suffered severe spinal cord injuries that paralyzed much of his body.
After multiple surgeries, he left the Islands for Craig Hospital, the rehabilitation center in Englewood specializing in brain and spinal injuries.
All of Noatala’s teammates made a detour to visit him in Colorado on their way to Saturday’s game in Wyoming.
“He was all about our philosophy of ‘living aloha’ and playing warrior when it’s time to play football,” Head Coach Nick Rolovich said. “I think that’s why you see how important he is to these guys.”
Noatala is making progress and has already regained most of his upper mobility.
The 6-foot-3 lineman is still in a wheelchair, but he has more people looking up to him than ever.
“When I was in the hospital some of them came,” Naotala said. “It’s huge for me knowing I got their support and they got my back.”
The team wore beanies to Craig, each with Noatala’s number and the phrase “back and better.”
When Noatala was first in the hospital, he couldn’t speak. He had to point out letters on an alphabet grid to spell words. “Back and better” was one of the first things he spelled out to his Rolovich.
He says that’s still Noatala’s plan: to come back and be better.
The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors take on the Wyoming Cowboys at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.