Al Harrington starred in ILH/Stanford football prior to Waikiki shows and Hawai’i Five-0

Alvin Harrington was an ILH All-Star running back for Punahou in 1952 and 1953 and as a senior led the Puns to their first league football championship since 1924. (Honolulu Advertiser Photo from
Al Harrington, the way I remember him, as Detective Ben Kokua on the original Hawai’i Five-0. (Photo from

One day after former Hawai’i Islanders standout pitcher Fred Kuhaulua passed away last month, our great state lost another prominent Polynesian former athlete when Al Harrington died at age 85 on Sept. 21 after reportedly suffering a stroke.

Harrington, who was a two-time ILH All-Star running back for Punahou and later played extensively at Stanford, is best remembered as a Polynesian show entertainer and for his role as Detective Ben Kokua on TV’s original Hawai’i Five-0. But he literally first made a name for himself on the gridiron at Honolulu Stadium in 1952 and 1953.

His life story really is as unique and amazing as his many talents.

According to the obituary written by the Star-Advertiser’s John Berger, Harrington was born as Tausau Ta’a in American Samoa and lived there until moving to Honolulu at age 3. He grew up in Halawa Housing and attended ‘Aiea Grammar School (later separated into ‘Aiea Elementary and ‘Aiea Intermediate) before being accepted to Punahou and changing his name to Alvin Harrington, in honor of his stepfather, Roy Harrington.

In his junior season at Punahou, Harrington led the ILH in rushing with 644 yards on 103 carries, for an average rush of 6.3 yards per carry and 92 yards per game. He also led the league in scoring with 71 points (11 touchdowns plus five extra point conversions) and threw for 127 yards and two TD’s.

Those regular season statistics do not include punt/kick returns or his standout performance in the annual Thanksgiving Day doubleheader feature game against previously unbeaten regular season champion Kamehameha. In that game, which was played before an overflow crowd of 26,000 at Honolulu Stadium, Harrington rushed for two touchdowns and kicked two PAT’s to help the Puns upset the Warriors, 22-14.

To put Harrington’s star status into perspective, that game also featured future Oregon State standout and Green Bay Packers quarterback Joe Francis (Kamehameha), and Warriors all-star end Alex Kane, who went on to start at Utah.

Despite being the only junior named to the ILH All-Star offense that season, Harrington earned the third-most votes submitted by league coaches selecting the team.

And for an encore, Harrington topped 1952 with an even more memorable senior season in 1953.

On Nov. 21, 1953, he rushed for 167 yards on 17 carries, including touchdown runs of 36 and 60 yards described as “back-breakers” by The Honolulu Advertiser in Punahou’s 25-2 victory over defending champion Kamehameha for the Puns’ first ILH title since 1924.

Harrington again led the league in scoring and in rushing with 618 yards on 86 carries for a 7.5 ypc average, caught six passes for 103 yards and one touchdown and threw for 73 more yards.

And for the second year in a row, he helped Punahou to a victory before an overflow crowd of 25,000-plus at Honolulu Stadium in the feature game of the legendary Turkey Day doubleheader, as the Puns rolled past St. Louis, 37-14.

Harrington rushed for 153 yards and two TD’s on 21 carries, adding a 28-yard kick return and 13-yard punt return.

He was one of only two unanimous selections on the ILH All-Star team, and by that standard was considered the league’s Back of the Year.

In addition to football, Harrington also was a standout in basketball (four-year letterman) and track (shot put record) at Punahou.

Harrington continued his football success at Stanford, where he played in the same backfield as consensus All-American and future San Francisco 49ers legendary quarterback John Brodie, and rushed for 419 yards on 90 carries (4.7 ypc) his senior year (1957) — good for seventh place among Pacific Coast Conference leaders. He also reportedly averaged 42 yards on seven punts, and made seven career receptions for 40 yards.

According to, Harrington finished his college career with 531 yards rushing, still good for 62nd place today after 101 seasons of Stanford football.

Harrington graduated from Stanford with a history degree in 1958 and reportedly received interest from the Baltimore Colts, but instead served a Mormon mission in American Samoa and later returned to Punahou as a history teacher and football coach. Among the players he trained was future Michigan State, UH and Kansas City Chiefs running back Arnold Morgado.

Of course, Harrington later again made a name for himself in his role as Detective Ben Kokua on the original Hawai’i Five-0, and then as a legendary Polynesian entertainer in Waikiki. In 2018, he received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Hawai’i Association of Recording Artists, one of the highest honors in local entertainment.

I never met Al Harrington, and obviously am way too young to have seen him in action as an athlete. Unfortunately, I also never got to attend one of his Waikiki performances.

I remember him mostly through his role as Ben Kokua on Hawai’i Five-0, and although he was acting, I couldn’t help but think his character somehow related to him in real life: Humble, loyal, intelligent but soft-spoken, hard-working, diligent and extremely valuable to the team, although never intentionally drawing attention or recognition to himself. And as the name “Kokua” suggests, always willing to help others.

That is how I prefer to remember Al Harrington, as well as him being one of the greatest football players in Punahou and ILH history.

My condolences go out to the Harrington ‘ohana, and mahalo for sharing Al with us and allowing him to share his aloha for Hawai’i with kama’aina and malihini alike. He was one of our islands’ treasures, for sure.

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