When Isaac Savaiinaea first encountered football, it was far from his favorite endeavor. As a 7-year-old who was introduced to the sport by his father, he didn't take kindly to defeat.
"My first four years of football were rough," Savaiinaea said. "We lost every game, literally. It was kind of discouraging and I wanted to quit."
He started his career playing on the offensive line, and he didn't particularly enjoy the way he was pushed around and hit by defensive players. By time he got to Honolulu Punahou School, he changed that, moving to the defensive side. Now he does the hitting and he does plenty of it -- enough to be recruited by quality college football programs across the United States.
"Getting put on my back every play wasn't too fun," Savaiinaea said. "I switched [to defense] my freshman year. I started to like it when I started getting the chance to hit people and not get hit."
The 6-foot-3, 231-pound inside linebacker and ESPN 150 prospect has had quite a successful last two seasons, which culminated Thursday when he accepted his game jersey during the American Family Insurance Selection Tour for the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game.
"It's a big honor," Savaiinaea said. "That's one of the top honors you can get as a high school athlete. Just being recognized for all the hard work I've put in these last few years is just great. These are the guys you're going to be playing against in college, so it's like a pre-college game. I'm just excited and real honored to be a part of it."
With a college football future ahead of him, Savaiinaea hopes to follow in the footsteps of another former Punahou star, Manti Te'o, who also played in the Under Armour All-America Game. The Notre Dame senior linebacker, who is a Heisman Trophy candidate and has led the No. 1 Fighting Irish to a 12-0 season, has given hope to football players across his home state, Savaiinaea said.
"It's great; it helps in other ways," Savaiinaea said. "Being in the spot he is right now is a dream that every football player in Hawaii has. They want to go off to college and they want to do good. But he just made the dream a reality. That gives us a little more faith and hope that one day, we can do the same."
Savaiinaea, who has an offer from Notre Dame, had the chance to spend time with Te'o during an official visit earlier this season when the Irish hosted Stanford.
"I know he's going to do big things in the league," Savaiinaea said. "Hopefully I get in the league too, someday. I'll tell my kids I knew him, I got to kick back with him and he's just a great guy to be around."
This season has been a good one for Savaiinaea, as he and his Punahou teammates made a run to the Hawaii Division I state championship game, falling to Kahuku (Hawaii) High School 42-20. Though taking the loss in the title game was tough, Savaiinaea was proud to have had a good season.
"The season was great," Savaiinaea said. "We became our league champs. It always hurts to lose the championship game. But I'm glad overall how our season went. It was a fun season."
On the recruiting front, it has been a busy fall for Savaiinaea. The fourth-ranked inside linebacker and No. 140 player in the ESPN 150 took four official visits during the college football season and it led him to a change of heart as he decommitted from Stanford.
Now, Savaiinaea has turned his focus to his final two, which are Texas A&M and UCLA. He said he enjoyed his visits to both. He came away with positive reviews for both trips and recently hosted Texas A&M special teams coordinator Brian Polian for an in-home visit this week. UCLA will schedule an in-home with Savaiinaea after the Pac-12 championship game.
"Coach Polian came over my house and talked to me about the school and how I would fit," Savaiinaea said. "It went pretty good."
Savaiinaea said his decision will come after the turn of the new year: either at the Under Armour All-America Game in Jan. 4 or on national signing day on Feb. 6. Until then, he'll focus on what is most important to him in the recruiting process: comfort.
"I feel like between these two schools, education is great," Savaiinaea said. "I just want to be at a place that I feel comfortable, because if I don't feel comfortable, I'm not going to want to be there for the next four years."