Oregon tight end Koa Ka’ai, a redshirt sophomore from Kamehameha High School (Honolulu, Hawaii), enters his third season in the Oregon program.
Before joining the Ducks, Ka’ai was listed as one of the top defensive ends in the 2011 recruiting class and earned high praise from Scout as a four-star plus a three-star listing by Rivals and ESPN. Ka’ai lettered in football, basketball and track and field and is one of the most versatile players on the Oregon roster. He played both ways on the football field, tight end and defensive end, and was listed as the No. 31 DE by Scout and No. 30 by ESPN. He was originally expected to play defensive end and was recruited by Oregon coaches Steve Greatwood and Jerry Azzinaro. Azzinaro, the former defensive line coach, left with Kelly to join the Philadelphia Eagles.
In 2011, Ka’ai redshirted while participating as a member of the defensive scout team. He earned defensive scout team player of the week leading up to a win at Washington.
In 2012, Ka’ai rotated over to offensive side of the ball due to a loaded group on the defensive line and also changed his jersey number from 95 to 80. Ka’ai played in 11-13 games as a redshirt freshman with two receptions for 18 yards. He was also called upon to play defense at times when the depth was cut down due to injuries. Ka’ai finished the season with four tackles (three unassisted, one assisted) with two coming on the road against Cal when the d-line was at its thinest.
Ka’ai also appeared in the 2013 Spring Game, recording one reception for 10 yards.
Going into next season, Ka’ai is in a heated battle for the second-string TE job behind starter Colt Lyerla. Sophomore Pharaoh Brown, sophomore T.J. Daniel and redshirt freshman Evan Baylis are all in competition for the spot. The battle will likely come down to Ka’ai and Brown with the two splitting reps throughout the season.
Baylis also has a strong shot at the job and appears to be gaining ground and has earned great praise from coaches and teammates over the spring. Regardless of who is listed as the next man on the depth chart, they’ll be 2A and 2B with both playing regularly during 2013.
Ka’ai provides incredible strength and a quick burst off the line, an advantage he’ll have for seeing time on the field. It’ll be interesting to see if he finds time on offense and defense next season, as both groups are loaded top-to-bottom with talent.