Oct. 24, 2008
By Matt Winter
Shane Pahukoa was a force at the safety position. With a dangerous mix of power and speed, he patrolled the secondary, holding down the last line of a defense that ranked among the best seen in the Pac-10. Pahukoa's career was headlined with success (the team was 39-9 from 1989-92), due in large part to his play as he solidified himself as one of the most valuable defensive players in Husky history.
Out of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, Pahukoa didn't come to Washington as the most touted of recruits. Most of his success in high school came on the offensive side of the ball, earning all-state honors his senior year after running for more than 1,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. At 6-foot, 3-inches and 195 pounds, he ran the 40 in 4.5 seconds and possessed the athleticism that won him a slam dunk contest at a high school basketball tournament at Pepperdine University. He was recruited by a few schools, but chose Washington to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Husky All- American offensive lineman Jeff Pahukoa.
"I knew wherever Jeff went, that's where I'd go," Shane said, "Coach [Jim] Lambright and [Don] James would be at my house recruiting my brother when I was a sophomore. As soon as they offered me a scholarship, I accepted it right away. I knew I didn't want to be anywhere else."
Pahukoa was one of only a few freshmen in 1989 that immediately saw playing time. His first action was on special teams in the season opener against Texas A&M.
"I'd never played in front of that many people before," he explains. "The speed was crazy. Running down the field was crazy."
Pahukoa saw more time during his sophomore year, splitting time at free safety with Tommie Smith. Playing with his brother had always been one of Shane's favorite parts about football, and in 1990 he witnessed Jeff blossom into an All-American.
"Jeff was always -- even in high school -- a guy I could go to for advice," Shane said. "Plus, it was always fun to come off the field and watch him play. It's like having your best friend out there."
Shane made the Pac-10 All-Academic team in his sophomore year, the first accolade of many. It was in his junior year in 1991 that he began to really make his mark, settling in as the everyday starter at free safety.
The defense was dominant that year, and Pahukoa attributes much of his individual success to his supporting cast on defense -- a group that included Steve Emtman, Dave Hoffmann, Donald Jones, and Dana Hall.
"It made our jobs in the secondary a lot easier because we only had to cover for a few seconds. We never had great stats because the front guys were so good," he explained. "It was helpful to know that if you messed up a coverage, there was someone to bail you out."
Despite what he says, Pahukoa's stats were significant. In 1991, he compiled 57 tackles and earned second team all Pac-10 honors. He saved one of his biggest performances for the final game -- the 1992 Rose Bowl against Michigan, where Pahukoa and the rest of the secondary had the mission of stopping the Wolverines' lightning-quick, Heisman Trophy-winning WR Desmond Howard.
The Huskies were up to the challenge, to say the least. Washington came out on top 34-14 and clinched the 1991 National Championship, much in thanks to Pahukoa, who broke up multiple deep pass plays to Howard. What's more, the Huskies' safety sprained his shoulder on the first play.
"We didn't expect to shut him down like we did," Pahukoa admits of Howard, who was limited to one catch. "To hold him to one catch and for [Huskies' WR] Mario [Bailey] to outshine him, it was a big moment for our team. They tried to go deep on us a couple times and it wasn't happening."
In his senior year, Pahukoa was voted captain by his teammates and helped lead the Huskies to a 9-3 record and a third-straight Rose Bowl appearance (they lost to Michigan, 38-31). Despite wearing a cast the entire year due to an offseason broken hand, he finished fourth on the team with 58 tackles and was again voted second-team All-Pac-10. He was also voted a second team All-American by College and Pro Football Newsday.
Pahukoa went undrafted in the 1992 draft but was signed by the New Orleans Saints. He played three years in the NFL, his biggest game coming against New England and former Washington State QB Drew Bledsoe -- Pahukoa had 10 tackles and 2 interceptions in the game.
These days, Pahukoa lives in the Los Angeles where he and his wife, Kendra, design and manufacture furniture. They have three children -- daughters Keala and Maili, and son Kanoe.
"There's a great tradition -- and I'm still great friends with my teammates and coaches," Pahukoa said of what he takes most from his time as a Husky. "The network of friendships that I built is what I most remember."