HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Eric Okasaki walked off Cooke Field by himself this morning and didn’t look back. Practice wasn’t over for the Rainbow Warrior football team, but Okasaki was already heading back to the trainer’s room knowing that the players would soon follow.
As routine as this walk had become for Okasaki, today was different. He bent down, pulled up some pieces of grass from the ground and stuffed them in his right pocket - something to take home with him after his last day of work.
After 46 seasons with the Warriors, Okasaki said Aloha to the team as he worked his final day at Manoa as the program’s head athletic trainer.
And in typical fashion, he didn’t want to make a fuss about it.
But while Okasaki didn’t want to make his retirement a big deal, the coaches had no hesitation talking about one of the unsung heroes of the program for the past four decades.
"When I first got out here to Hawaii and I had to coach the (defensive backs). it was a hard group of guys to coach,” said defensive backs coach Abe Eliminian. “(Okasaki) basically went through all the guys and said this is what to expect - the good, the bad and everything in the middle. He will surely be missed … There’s certain times when you can’t talk to your coaches for whatever reason and Eric was always a voice that listened to me.”
Okasaki, by all accounts, was the best trainer a player or coach could ask for. But according to passing game coordinator Craig Stutzman, he was so much more than that.
"He's like a father figure,” Stutzman said. “He's helped a lot of the mainland guys transition to the local culture. For local guys, he made sure you understand - letting you know what you represent here.He's more than just a trainer; he's a father figure and we're definitely going to miss him."
As players and coaches at Hawaii, Eliminian, Stutzman and head coach Nick Rolovich developed a close bond with Okasaki over the years. The ‘Bows haven’t found a replacement for Okasaki as of yet and will likely find it near-impossible to do so.
“He’s been a staple around this program for so long,” Rolovich said. “As a trainer, you spend so much time with those guys and I think there was a trust level there for over 40 years that he cares about people and getting them right.”