Sunahara’s Path Crossed Many Sports Before Landing At WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia long snapper Rex Sunahara might serve as the spokesman for the benefits of playing multiple sports while growing up. He has excelled, at different points in his career, at football, basketball and baseball, and has found satisfaction and enjoyment in each.
As a high school wide receiver and a three-sport athlete, he developed a number of different abilities, and first pursued his collegiate path as a football player and a basketball walk-on at Rhode Island before deciding to change tacks and come to West Virginia.
“I went to Rhode Island and did o.k. there,” said Sunahara, who earned the Rams’ starting snapping job in his freshman year of 2016, playing in eight games. “I was a walk-on on the basketball team, and it was great there. It was one of the best experiences of my life, playing for coach Dan Hurley. But I thought that football was going to be where I could be the best at what I could do.”
That realization led to a phone call to his father Reed, who happens to be the head volleyball coach at WVU. Rex, who never played that sport competitively (volleyball and baseball had season conflicts during his high school days in Ohio), told his father that he was thinking about transferring.
“I said, ‘OK, so where are you thinking about going?'” Reed picks up the story. “He said, ‘Actually, I am thinking about coming there.’ So I told him that he could come here and walk-on for football or basketball, or try to play baseball, but that if he didn’t do anything he would have to be a manager for me.”
Rex didn’t have any thoughts of not playing a sport, however. His sights were on football, where he believed his highest ceiling for achievement existed. He contacted WVU recruiting coordinator Casey Smithson, earned a tryout, and enrolled in the summer of 2016. After getting good marks on his long-snapping demo, he joined the team and sat out 2017 as a redshirt.
“When I came here I thought if I came here and worked hard it would fall in my direction,” said Rex, who credits his parents for supporting him and allowing him to finding his own way, while also imparting lessons that resonate beyond the football field. ‘[My father] is very supportive of what I do and of me coming here to begin with. He sits back and lets me do what I need to do. That’s the best thing he has done for me.”
That approach was the same one that Reed received from his father, and it was one that led to great success. Reed was a Hawaii all-state high school performer in baseball, basketball and volleyball before going on to UCLA.
“It was the same thing my dad did with me. He never forced me to play a sport, but he gave me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. Luckily I fell in love with sports,” Reed recalled.
As a result, Rex has always felt comfortable pursuing his own path. He never played his father’s best sport competitively (Volleyball is a spring sport in Ohio, and I played baseball throughout high school”) and may have avoided some of the burnout that plagues those who are pushed into a single sport almost from birth. Now he’s anchoring two WVU special teams, following in a long line of excellent players who have served as snappers for the Mountaineers.
The move to West Virginia also re-enabled a partial family reunion.
My brother (freshman basketballer R.J.) goes to Fairmont State and that’s just down the road, so we are always having dinner or lunch or something,” Rex said. “It’s great. It’s hard to keep family business — that’s what my dad calls it — out of our conversations. I talk to him a lot about stuff– how he’s doing and how his team is. He asks me the same questions A lot of the time its family stuff.”
Rex downplays his physical abilities, even with his excellent background of athletic achievements. He jokes about looking at current Mountaineers David Sills (Rex was a wide receiver in high school) and Kenny Robinson, and saying that he can’t compete with them, but that’s selling himself short.
“I guess (my) hands,” he said of one attribute that has helped him in many of his athletic endeavors. “I have pretty big hands, and that helps a lot when it’s raining or when conditions aren’t the best. I was never the fastest guy. You see guys like Kenny and David sitting over there lining up against you, and you know you aren’t going to be able to do too much against that.”
An affable sort that is always ready with a laugh, Rex also responds with humor when he asked about legendary athletic skills of Reed, who was nicknamed “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” for his monstrous vertical leap and stellar UCLA volleyball career, where he was a two-time All-American and three-time NCAA champion. Reed was destined for international greatness before shattering his leg in a motorcycle accident prior to his senior year.
“I wish I could jump as high as he did,” Rex laughed when his father’s ability was discussed, before turning to a more serious vein. “He installed a work ethic in my brother and me. Both he and my mom are two of the hardest workers I have ever seen in my life.”
For his part, Reed tries to watch his sons as a parent, although occasionally his profession creeps in.
“I think I start of watching it as a dad watching son, but as it progresses it goes to ‘Hey this is what to do from a coaching perspective’. But all I know [about long snapping is if they know his name it’s a bad thing.”
Reed is looking forward to chances to see his sons play. Due to scheduling conflicts, that hasn’t happened yet.
“I haven’t gotten to see him play live yet, because we haven’t had the chance. But I see his videos and the replays. I’m looking forward to that. I’m proud of him,” Reed concluded. “He has worked hard to get where he is. It’s the same thing we preach to our players.”