Hawaii Professional Football League brings blue collar dedication to the field

Jamie Winpenny

HONOLULU—J.J. Niebuhr is a busy man. As co-owner of JJ Dolan’s Irish Pizza Pub on Bethel Street, he has his hands full managing the daily operations of a kitchen that cranks out up to 240 pizza pies in a single day of operation. He is also the new public face of the Arts District Merchants Association, a position that seems well suited to his gregarious nature and uncommon willingness to help others.

And now Niebuhr is involved in another ambitious undertaking. He has signed on as a coach with the Honolulu Volcanoes of the Hawaii Professional Football League (HPFL), which begins its 2011 season Friday, March 4 at Aloha Stadium.

“I actually tried out for the team back in December,” says Niebuhr, who played football in high school and with intramurals squads while he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. “But after you get called ‘Uncle’ and ‘Pops’ and ‘Brett Favre’ enough times, you start to think there might be another way to get involved.”

Niebuhr has become the running backs/special teams coach serving under team owner and head coach Darrick Branch, who won the hearts of UH Football fans with a banner 1992 season, when the team won the Holiday Bowl.

There are four teams in the HPFL, and a large roster of free agent players. Some players will receive pay for playing, others have the option to pay for playing time. At the time of the start of the regular season on Friday, teams will be limited to 40-man rosters.

“The league has a whole lot of homegrown talent,” explains Niebuhr. “A lot of these guys are playing for personal fulfillment, not a paycheck. They get off of work at pau hana time and they come to practice. There’s some serious dedication there.”

The league offers a second chance to former collegiate players who never made a pro roster. An official NFL developmental league, the HPFL offers an opportunity for players to showcase their skills for scouts and agents, exposure they might not otherwise receive. With the demise of Arena Football in Hawaii, the opportunity is certainly a welcome one.

The HPFL uses many of the same rules of play as the NFL and NCAA, with a few exceptions to add excitement to the game and to give the league a distinctly Hawaiian identity. The coin toss to determine possession at the beginning of the game will be replaced by a jun ken po challenge, with the winner receiving the same advantage as a winner of a traditional coin toss. An ‘oli will be performed before each game, and a traditional haka by each team will be allowed.

The 2011 regular season begins at Aloha Stadium, but the rest of the regular season games will be played at Pearl City and Radford high schools.

For more information about the Hawaii Professional Football League, or to purchase tickets, visit www.hawaiiprofootball.com.

Related Stories:

After two years, J.J. Dolan’s Irish Pizza Pub models success

Rollin’ in the dough: JJ Dolan’s marks its first year of value, fine service in Downtown