In a day and age when football offenses continue to shift towards smaller and nimbler players playing in faster paced schemes, Dayton Furuta certainly sticks out. Standing at 250 pounds, Furuta is one of the biggest running backs in all of college football.
“Nowadays you don’t really see big backs in these fast-paced offenses, this fast-paced football,” Furuta said. “But they’ve still got a spot for us somewhere.”
Furuta’s rare mix of size and athleticism was apparent from day one. Born to Dayne and Liʻi Furuta, the Mililani-native grew up playing for the Waipio Panthers youth football team. Playing in the running back position, he was nicknamed after one of his idols by his peers on the team.
“Growing up, I watched guys like Wes Keliikipi, Nate Ilaoa, and Reagan Mauiʻa,” Furuta said. “I watched all those big dudes. That was my nickname back then. [My teammates] used to call me Keliikipi when I played for Waipiʻo. [Running back] just fit perfect for me.”
His love of the position continued into high school. A 2014 graduate of Mililani High School, Furuta was a four-sport athlete for the Trojans. In addition to football, he also competed in wrestling, judo and basketball. Furuta showed a knack for all his sports. As a junior, he captured the 213 OIA wrestling championship. He also placed fifth at both the 2012 and 2013 HHSAA state meet, finishing his wrestling career with a 55-9 record. Furuta also excelled at judo, where hs finished third at the HHSAA championships in both 2011 and 2012, before finishing as the runner-up in 2013. He finished his judo career with a 70-4 record.
“Wrestling and judo were fun for me,” Furuta said. “It’s more about the team than you would think. Its only one-on-one on the mat, but the preparation and teamwork, all that stuff, everything matters. Even though they’re individual sports, I think I learned the most about teamwork in those sports.”
Furuta also dabbled in basketball, though it was more about conditioning and having fun with childhood teammates for him. For Furuta, his heart always belonged to football.
“I always knew football was gonna be the ticket,” Furuta said with a smile.
On the football field, Furuta was a do-it-all athlete, excelling in all phases of the game. He played primarily at linebacker, and was named as a first team all-state linebacker in 2014. He was also named second team all-state utility player by the Star-Advertiser in 2012. He also showed flashes at running back, leading the team in rushing yards six times during the 2012 season.
He had one of his finest performances in the First Hawaiian Bank Division I state football tournament, leading the Trojans over Maui’s Baldwin High School with 118 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. Furuta was also a consistent contributor on special teams, and was selected first team all-OIA Red West three years in a row from 2012-14. At the culmination of his high school football career, he was selected to participate in the Hawaii Union Builders Foundation Goodwill Senior Bowl.
“My mindset was always to do whatever I can do so that the team can win,” Furuta said of his versatility. “If I had to throw my body in front of a truck to win the game, I would. I do it all for the team, and everything works out in the end.”
After being inducted into the HHSAA Hall of Honor in 2014 and graduating as an honor-roll student, Furuta made his way to UH. As a kid growing up on Oʻahu, he vividly remembers watching the Rainbow Warriors during his youth.
“Back in 06-07, with Colt Brennen and them, my grandpa had season tickets,” Furuta said. “He would always give me tickets to go to the games, me and my friends. I can still remember the team upsetting Nevada. When we won that game and the crowd stormed the field, I was one of those kids jumping over the fence first. Just being able to experience that, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a Warrior. When the opportunity came, I had to take advantage of it.”
He certainly did take advantage. Now heading into his final season of eligibility as a fifth-year senior, Furuta has been named one of the captains for the team he grew up watching.
However, his journey at UH wasn’t always so straightforward.
Arriving in 2015 after a position-fluid career in high school, Furuta wasn’t able to find his role on the team right away. He redshirted in 2015, before appearing to settle down at the familiar linebacker position in 2016. He was seldom used however, appearing in just four games as a member of the special teams unit and racking up two tackles on the season. In 2017, Furuta made the switch to offense. Due to lack of depth on the team, he was asked by head coach Nick Rolovich to make the switch to tight end. Furuta became a heavy contributor on special teams, appearing in all 12 games and finishing with four tackles.
“My mentality since I’ve been here was [to do] whatever I could do to benefit the team,” Furuta said. “I came in as a linebacker. We had the depth and the returning starters, so my role was on the scout team. Everyday I put in work and worked as hard as I can. Opportunity presents itself. We had a couple guys go down, and Rolo asked me if I wanted to play the H-back position, maybe that blocking tight end. Whatever I thought would make the team better, that’s what I did.”
2018 marked yet another transformation for Furuta, as he made the transition to running back. He was an immediate contributor, starting in six games at his new position. He finished the season ranked second on the team with 459 yards on 93 carries. He also picked up the first two rushing touchdowns of his career, while tacking on another receiving touchdown. All in all, Furuta appeared in 13 out of a possible 14 games during the 2018 season.
He missed the final regular-season game at San Diego State, but not without a very good reason. Back in Oʻahu, on November 20, 2018, Sky Kaleihuluaeokalani Lee Furuta was born.
With her birth, Furuta, a college student and division 1 athlete, also became a family man and a father.
“Growing up in sports, you experience a lot of emotions,” Furuta said. “The ups and downs, the pain, and just putting in the work. None of it compares to holding your daughter for the first time.”
On Aug. 24, 9-month-old Sky made her first appearance at Aloha Stadium to watch her father take on Arizona.
“It’s just a great experience, her finally being out there,” Furuta said. “Just having her out there having fun, dancing with the crowd, it’s extra motivation looking to the sideline and seeing her.”
Sky’s first Hawaiʻi game ended up being a memorable one, as Furuta and the ‘Bows took down the Wildcats 45-38 in an upset win. The Rainbow Warriors wrapped up the season-opening victory with a last second tackle of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate at the 1-yard line.
“I’m just happy that she had fun,” Furuta said. “I wasn’t sure how she would react to all the noise and the band. It was pretty much an instant classic. We had like 20,000 people there. 20,000 were roaring the whole time, and my daughter was one of them. She was loving it.”
In the weeks leading up to the game, Furuta, just one year into his time as a college running back, was named as a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award, the award honoring the top running back in college football annually. He was also named to the watch list for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.
“It just goes to show that hard work does pay off. A lot of the times it’s what people don’t see that’s going to separate you from the rest. All the extra work, especially the team 5 a.m., 6 a.m. workouts. I think all those award considerations are a credit to the team and our offense.”
If the Arizona game was any indication, the ‘Bows offense is set to put up some big numbers this year.
“When the offense is clicking, and the defense is clicking, I honestly don’t think there’s a team that can stop us,” Furuta said. “There’s not an offense that can outscore us. Just fireworks. We want fireworks and that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna give the fans something interesting to watch.”