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Barry Hirstius

ZERO HOUR: Moment of Truth Arrives For Saints Defensive End Hau’oli Kikaha

Can he, or can't he? Will he or won't he? That's the question right now being asked by Saints fans, as the beginning of Training Camp has arrived for the New Orleans Saints and their 3rd year defensive end and 2015 2nd Round draft choice, Hau'oli Kikaha.

For a lack of a better term: it's "zero hour".

In the Miriam-Webster official American dictionary, "zero hour" is defined as: 1): the hour at which a planned military operation is scheduled to start  2): the time at which a usually significant or notable event is scheduled to take place  3): a time when a vital decision or decisive change must be made.

Its synonyms include: the appointed time, the critical moment, the moment of truth, or the point/moment of decision.

And ALL of it applies to Kikaha.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

As it's been well-chronicled: Kikaha tore the ACL in his left knee last off-season in the Saints' final session of OTA's, for what was the THIRD time of his playing career, and all 3 of the torn ACL injuries have occurred within the past 5 years.

That in and of itself, would normally signal the end of a professional athlete's playing career. It's difficult enough to have to overcome one torn ACL injury,  much less three of them --- and all in the same exact area.

But that's exactly what will be happening in less than 48 hours from now when Kikaha, the rest of his teammates and the team's coaching staff come together at the Saints Training Facility in suburban Metairie for the start of this year's 2017 Training Camp.

Perhaps the biggest moment of truth for Kikaha -- who today is celebrating his 25th birthday -- will come this Saturday, when the Saints are expected to practice in full pads for the very first time.

Assuming the Saints coaching staff --- and specifically new defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen -- don't hold Kikaha back and allow him to participate in practice without limitations or restrictions, it should be the first opportunity for everyone to see just how far Kikaha has come along in his rehabilitation efforts.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Although Kikaha has been rehabbing the knee for nearly a year now and appears to be fully healed, enough so that he participated in the walk-through portion of team drills at the recent Mini-Camp earlier last month, it's still a whole lot different from getting hit at full speed once the players put on full pads this Saturday.

Unfortunately for Kikaha, even if he does show Nielsen and the rest of the team's coaching staff that he can still play, he nevertheless will likely find himself to be in the “fight of his life” for a spot on the final 53-man roster at the end of next month.

Kikaha's main competition in this year's Camp are 5th year veteran defensive end Alex Okafor, one of the top free-agent signings for New Orleans in 2017 Free Agency; and this year's 3rd Round draft pick Trey Hendrickson out of Florida Atlantic, both of whom are expected to push hard for the starting role of the opposite edge rusher / 9-technique defensive end position on the side opposite of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan.

Kikaha at this point will just have to prove that he's capable of still playing at a high of a enough level to become a part of what likely be a 3-man rotation at the Edge spot.

Any chance at winning back his starter's role from last year prior to the injury, would seem to be a remote possibility or a long-shot, at best.

And besides having to battle Okafor and Hendrickson, maybe even the bigger battle for Kikiha in these next few upcoming weeks, will be against HIMSELF.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

As Kikaha returns to the proverbial "scene of the crime" where the injury occurred --- while looking to begin the attempt of what would be an improbable 3rd 'come back' in time for the upcoming 2017 regular season --- the thought of possibly re-injuring the knee yet again will always be at the forefront of the now 25-year old's mind.

"What if I blow it out again? What will I do then?"

"How do I feed and support my family?"

Those are the exact type of self-doubts and self-inflicted mental anguish that Kikaha will have to battle through, besides the competition and the relentless heat and humidity of the south Louisiana summertime.

A recent study has shown that athletes recovering from a torn ACL (not to mention a 3rd one to the very SAME knee) actually suffer with instances of severe emotional depression that can potentially hamper the ACL recovery process as a whole.

And the world can become a very scary place when all of the odds seem to suddenly be against you.

These next few weeks will not only prove a lot for Kikaha with regard to where he stands physically, but it obviously will also determine just where he is mentally.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Kikaha has to prove to himself and to everyone else involved that he is indeed up to the task of conquering the overwhelming sense of despair that all professional athletes who face this type of situation experience, when they know that their livelihood and their reason of purpose is at risk of being taken away from them.

If nothing else, he certainly won't be lacking for motivation.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Hau'oli Kikaha!

Now it's "zero hour".

Let's get to work........

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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