There’s one question Kirkland Mawae is used to hearing. The Dunham School senior doesn’t blink when people ask why he’s not a football player.
“The last time I played football in an organized way I was in the fifth and sixth grade,” Mawae said. “It was a rec league team, and at the time I could only play offensive line because of my size, and I didn’t like that. My parents give us the freedom to do what we want to do, and when I said I didn’t want to play football, they said OK.”
Sometimes dreams get changed or rearranged, which is precisely what happened for Mawae, who is committed to swim for Division II Wingate University, located near Charlotte, North Carolina.
The son of former LSU and NFL offensive lineman Kevin Mawae didn’t take the direct route to swimming. As he approaches this weekend’s Capital City Swim League Championships it is clear Mawae is doing it his way.
“He’s probably been asked 1,000 time,s and I’ve probably been asked a million times why he doesn’t play football,” Kevin Mawae said. “I guess the thing that disappoints me the most is that people always ask me if I’m disappointed that Kirkland doesn’t play football.
“The answer is no. If the circumstances were different, I wouldn’t get that question. He’s getting to do what he wants to do, and that’s what’s important.”
The fact Mawae ranks among the CCSL’s top competitors in multiple events while competing for Division IV Dunham is notable. So is his meteoric rise in swimming since the family returned to Louisiana two years ago.
He is scheduled to compete in the 100-yard backstroke and 100 breaststroke during the CCSL meet Saturday and Sunday at the Crawfish Aquatics pool. Mawae ranks fourth among 100 backstroke competitors with a time of 59.22 seconds, behind three swimmers from Division I Catholic.
In the 100 breaststroke, he swam the league’s top regular-season time but is seeded second to Catholic’s Jonathan Mckeough by a fraction of a second. Mckeough recorded a time of 1 minute, 4.23 seconds in a nonleague meet. A year ago Mawae won the 100 freestyle in 50.55 seconds and the 100 backstroke in 54.63 at the Division IV state meet.
“I like meets like this because I get to compete against guys from other divisions, and a lot of those guys are friends of mine,” Mawae said. “Connor Futch (who has the top backstroke time of 56.08 seconds) is one of my good friends. It’ll also help get me ready for our state meet.”
Though the sports of football and swimming are different, it is fair to say Kirkland Mawae has inherited his father’s competitiveness and has used it multiple ways over the years. He was a year-round swimmer as a youngster when his father played for the New York Jets.
Mawae and his sister, Abigail, now a freshman at St. Joseph’s Academy, also got involved in Irish dance before the family moved to Nashville as Kevin Mawae ended his 16-year NFL career with the Tennessee Titans.
Kevin and Tracy Mawae chose to home school their children when they first moved to Tennessee. While he was competing as a youth football lineman, Kirkland Mawae also continued to excel and compete in Irish dance. He also lettered as a freshman swimmer at Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys school that won a Tennessee state title in 2011 but did not compete in the state meet.
“Nashville was great,” said Kevin Mawae, who became Dean of Students and an assistant football coach at Montgomery Bell after he retired from the NFL in 2009. “What it came down to was we wanted to be closer to family.”
So the family made one more move in the fall of 2012. The year ended with Kirkland Mawae helping Dunham finish as the Division IV boys runner-up. He continued to compete in Irish dance for a few more months. Once again, he was hooked on swimming.
“There was something about it … being part of a team that did so well had something to do with it,” Mawae said. “I really started to love swimming. And it knew it would be hard to compete in both, so I chose swimming. That’s when I started swimming year-round.”
With Abigail Mawae seeking a third Division I state qualifying time for St. Joseph’s, the weekend will be a full one for the Mawae family.
They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“One of things I learned to appreciate right away was the amount of commitment it takes to be a serious swimmer,” Kevin Mawae said. “Kirkland gets up at 4 a.m. three days a week to practice. He goes to school, and then he does another practice. We love watching our children compete in something they love.”