Hau'oli Kikaha Ready for Combine Experience to Be About NFL Future, Not Injuries

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystFebruary 17, 2015

USA Today

First impressions can sometimes leave the wrong impression. 

For Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha, he hopes NFL teams will look beyond his injury history and recognize the type of player he became during his final two seasons with the Huskies. 

After requiring two ACL reconstructions on his left knee, Kikaha became Washington's all-time leader in sacks. The hybrid defensive end even led the nation with 19 sacks as a senior. 

However, teams continue to worry about the status of his previously repaired knee. 

It's a continuous struggle for the talented edge-rusher: 

I want people to get past it and see what I'm doing as a player. Not what I can do. It puts a damper on what I've been able to accomplish and from what I've heard from coaches, scouts and NFL player personnel. There are concerns about these things, whereas I'm concerned about X's and O's and my performance. I can't wait for the day when people put on the film and say, 'Wow. This guy is doing his thing,' and they don't even mention the injury. 

In the 2011 season opener against the California Golden Bears, Kikahathen known by the last name of Jamora, which he later changed to honor his mother's side of the family—tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. 

It took a second surgery on the same knee for it to finally feel right again, according to Kikaha: 

I'm extremely confident in the results we've gotten. The second surgery was done by one of a top surgeons in the Seattle Seahawks' Edward Khalfayan. He's probably going to be there [at the NFL combine]. I'm really confident in his work, and I'm feeling very strong compared to the first time.

I don't want to make any excuses about that first surgery, but it wasn't the best situation. I'll just say that. Everything went perfectly the second time around. 

I'm really confident in the knee. I can only wait and see what everyone thinks once I get to Indianapolis. 

The defensive end is scheduled to fly into Indianapolis on Thursday for the 2015 NFL combine. Once he's settled, the first thing he'll have to do is receive a head-to-toe medical evaluation, and plenty of attention will be drawn to his previously injured knee. 

"They have questions about it," Kikaha continued. "I know there are questions there, and they want to be satisfied. I'm extremely well-prepared for anything that comes my way. I'm much stronger because of this, and I'm a better leader, person and player as a result."

Once the questions surrounding Kikaha's knee are adequately addressed by NFL team doctors, organizations can finally start to see the player the Hawaiian native developed into over the past two seasons. 

FBS sack leaders (2005-14)
2005Elvis DumervilLouisville20
2006Ameer IsmailWestern Michigan17
2007Greg MiddletonIndiana16
2008Jerry HughesTCU15
2009Von MillerTexas A&M16.5
2010Da'Quan BowersClemson15
2011Whitney MercilusIllinois16
2012Jarvis JonesGeorgia14.5
2013Trent MurphyStanford15
2014Hau'oli KikahaWashington19
Source: CFBStats.com and Sports-Reference.com

Baltimore Ravens Ozzie Newsome once said at the combine, "If we've seen you do it in college, we expect you to do it at the NFL level." 

Newsome was addressing the notion that top pass-rushers don't necessarily translate at the NFL level. The Ravens executive even cited the example of Terrell Suggs, who didn't test well prior to the 2003 NFL draft after setting a new college football record with 24 sacks as a junior with the Arizona State Sun Devils. Suggs went on to become the 2003 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and a six-time Pro Bowl selection. 

Teams may be concerned with Kikaha's previous knee issues, but none of them can deny the former Husky's production over the last two years of his career. 

Kikaha registered 32 sacks during that period. He continually improved in the art of rushing the passer. One of the reasons behind his impressive production is the ability to use his hands effectively, which is often an underdeveloped area for pass-rushers coming out of college. 

"The hand-fighting certainly applies in all areas of football, and it's something I find extremely fun and unique to my game," the defensive end said. "I enjoy practicing different hand-fighting techniques and styles."

Prior to his arrival in Washington, Kikaha wrestled and practiced judo. He even told Bleacher Report that he picked up some boxing exercises during his predraft preparation at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney, Texas

However, claims will still be made that the edge-rusher benefited from a talented surrounding cast. Three former teammatesnose tackle Danny Shelton, linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback Marcus Peterscould be potentially selected in the first or second round of spring's NFL draft. 

Shelton in particular was a wrecking ball in the middle of the Huskies defense. He registered an astounding 93 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. 

While the argument can made that Shelton drew attention away from Kikaha, it should also be noted that the fellow Polynesian helped his teammate as much if not more so off the field. 

Kikaha described his relationship with Shelton:

He turned it around this year. He kind of had some issues in his past. He's always been the younger brother-type to me. We've always been close. This year he really stepped it up and took on a leadership role. He dominated every day in practice. Thus, he was more prepared for game time, and he gave 100 percent effort. For a guy his size [6'2", 339 lbs] to move the way he does, you can't teach that. Some offenses didn't know how to handle him, and some were even disrespectful by giving him one-on-ones [blocks]. He made a bunch of plays for us. 

I was there for him when he needed me and vice versa. This year he came into his own and matured a ton. He prepared himself to take on a leadership role. 

Even without Shelton completely dominating in the middle of the defense, Kikaha registered 13 sacks as a junior after coming off two major knee surgeries.

Once his level of production intrigues a team or two, the coaches will then need to decide what scheme best fits the defensive lineman's skill set. 

At Washington, Kikaha primarily served as a rush end who often lined up from a two-point stance. But he accepted the challenge of participating as a 4-3 outside linebacker during his time in Mobile, Alabama, for the the 2015 Reese's Senior Bowl. 

While the convert may not have received the best reviews on the transition from outside sources, the feedback he received from those inside the league was overwhelmingly positive. 

"I thought I did extremely well according to the coaches at the Senior Bowl and those at home watching," Kikaha explained. "It was something that I've never done. Each day was totally different when you compare them side by side. The feedback I got was really good."

Kikaha appears destined to play linebacker in the NFL. At 6'2" and 246 pounds with arms that measure shorter than 32 inches, the collegiate sack-master doesn't have the size or length teams prefer in their defensive ends.

It doesn't matter what position Kikaha eventually plays because he believes he's destined to do one thing at the next level:

I'm rushing the quarterback wherever you put me. I know that. I'm getting after him, and I can't wait. I'll rush the quarterback from wherever you want me to rush the quarterback. Whether it's 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 outside linebacker, which I played at the Senior Bowl, I've been comfortable at those positions and thought I progressed well down in Mobile. 

I'm up for anything as long as I get to rush the passer every so often. 

In the pass-happy NFL, the ability to get after opposing quarterbacks is a valuable trait, and it doesn't matter exactly where the player applies the pressure. 

Once teams get to know Kikaha as a person, player and his injury history, it all points toward a high-round draft choice and a productive NFL player. 

All quotes were obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report. Brent Sobleski covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.