While dozens of high school student-athletes signed their national letters of intent early Wednesday morning, Blaine Hipa was zipping along on the H-3 Freeway.

Hipa was Campbell’s quarterback as a sophomore, launching bombs to future UCF and current UCLA wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala regularly. He lost his junior season when the state of Hawaii canceled fall and winter sports in 2020-21. Hipa transferred to Chandler (Ariz.) in March of ’21, beat out three other quarterbacks for the starting position, and helped the program reach the Open Division championship game.

An 11-2 season helped Hipa get noticed by Princeton. All the while, his previous offers from Hawaii and Tennessee as a sophomore dissipated as new coaching staffs settled in. Even Princeton didn’t quite have an opening for Hipa until a prospect decommitted in December.

That’s when the bond between Hipa and Princeton quarterbacks coach Mark Rosenbaum grew stronger.

“He liked my film, broke it down and we talked about it. He said my grades and everything else, they like. They were super interested in me and who I played under. That’s how it started and we kept talking from there,” Hipa said while driving to school.

Hipa, who has a 3.8 grade-point average, returned to Hawaii after the second quarter and re-enrolled at Campbell. Since he departed for Arizona last year, coach Darren Johnson continued to be a big fan and supporter of Hipa. There was no way to know whether a ’21 fall season would happen, Johnson said then.

Chandler’s offense has similarities to the system run at Princeton, Hipa said.

“When I was on my visit, we broke down the offense and they’re an even run and pass team. They pass a lot, a lot of no huddle,” Hipa said.

Princeton won the Ivy League last season and has won three of the last five titles, he added.

“They mix it up. Some 3×1, some tight end,” he said.

Hipa and his parents moved together to Chandler, and now they are back home.

“I love being back. I love this place so much. A lot of people don’t understand when you leave, you miss this place a lot. This place is different from the mainland,” he said.

So, on NLI signing day, Hipa was in a car, driving to school while many other athletes were connected to Zoom and signing their dreams into reality. In the Ivy League, there are no athletic scholarships. Hipa is close to being officially accepted at Princeton.

“I’m pretty close. I just have to do a few more things (paper work) and I’m good,” he said.

There is, naturally, some disappointment lingering after the early offers from UH and Tennessee, but Hipa has learned to move forward.

“Ever since Timmy Chang got hired I never go re-offered. Tennessee changed coaches. I didn’t get re-offered. It’s something I can’t control so I’ll do what I can control,” Hipa said. “I kind of feel relieved that I have a spot now, going to a place that’s really good, a prestigious opportunity.”

Back in the islands, the fall season was postponed, but eventually completed. Hipa compares the Open Division in Arizona favorably to Hawaii’s Open Division, giving the edge to the former.

“I would say it’s higher than Hawaii. The amount of preparation, detail and time that goes in,” he said. “I learned a lot. When I say a lot, I mean a big amount of football knowledge, meeting certain guys, I picked up a lot of information and it made me a better football player, a better person. I appreciate DJ a lot for supporting my decision.”

That still didn’t make it easy being away from home.

“I always thought, seeing my boys playing, it was hard not being able to play with them my senior year, but I was doing what was best for me,” Hipa said. “I kept my mind where I needed to keep it.”

A majority of this year’s FBS signees did so during the early signing day in December. Other expecting signings day include Kailua’s Blazen Lono-Wong, who inked his letter of intent to Arizona State this morning, and AJ Bianco of Saint Louis (Nevada) and Kawika Rogers of Kapaa (Oregon).

In all there are 12 FBS football signees from the class of 2022 in Hawaii. The dropoff in numbers is due in part to the COVID repeat year allotted to collegiate players.

NLI football signees (FBS level):

2017: 21

2018: 20

2019: 31

2020: 33

2021: 16

2022: 12

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