HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
OIA White looks tight
Most times in high school football, it's easy to pick out the early-season favorites in each division. All you have to do is look at the top returning teams from the previous year.
It's not quite that simple in the Oahu Interscholastic Association White division this season, however. Four of the top five teams from last year (Radford, Moanalua, Campbell, Kalaheo) have moved up to the Red division, replaced by Kaimuki, Nanakuli, Pearl City and Roosevelt. Throw in Anuenue, which will field a varsity team for the first time, and the conference's outlook is as up in the air as it has ever been.
"Who knows?" Waipahu coach Sean Saturnio said. "Parity has found its way into our league on a real good level."
The Marauders are one of the more experienced teams this year, returning 11 starters. They also made a key addition to their triple-option offense in Kalaheo transfer Matt Soueira, who led the league in rushing last season.
"He's definitely the kind of kid that adds another threat to what we already do," Saturnio said. "He brings a lot of leadership to this team and will have an impact on both offense and defense."
Two-way players are the norm in high school football, especially for some of the smaller schools that struggle to field teams. One of those teams is Anuenue, which will debut with a roster of fewer than 25 players. It has been a gigantic task for Warriors coach Tim Wengler to put together a team from scratch, but his commitment has helped created an excitement for football on campus.
"We've had our trials and we'll need to do everything we can to stay healthy, but these boys are tough," Wengler said. "There's so much excitement just to get out and play that I don't think they know what it means to be tired."
Anuenue nearly pulled out a victory in its only nonconference game last week, losing 7-6 to Pearl City after coming up short on a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
"They were bigger than us, had a lot more people and lots more depth, but we managed to survive and almost pull off a victory," Wengler said. "We struggle to even have 7-on-7's in practice due to limited numbers, yet these kids still are determined and energized."
Kaiser and Waialua should feature very explosive offenses, as each unit returns nine starters. Bulldogs quarterback Caleb Fore leads an experienced group that also features senior wideout Adam Foster and junior Donovan Matas. The Cougars return senior quarterback Skyler Chan, but three-year starter Isaac Saffrey will be looked at to carry a chunk of the load at running back.
"(Saffrey) is pretty much our powerhouse," Kaiser coach Pat Samsonas said. "We're looking to use him the right ways in the right situations."
It's a much different preseason for Samsonas than last year, when he took over for David Maeva. Now that he's had a year to put the players in the places he wants, he has been able to focus on some of the more detailed aspects of the team, and expects things to run a lot smoother.
"Last year everything was about coaching and every aspect of coaching was used," Samsonas said. "This year I've been able to focus more on fine-tuning a lot of things we didn't do last season, and spend a lot more time working on different strategies for certain teams."
The experience of playing against some of the tougher OIA teams in the Red division year in and year out is reason enough to think the new members of the division will be competitive as well. Tai Apisa has taken over at Nanakuli, while Mel Bicoy is making his debut as head coach at Pearl City after 30 years as an assistant coach. Kaimuki is experienced, with 11 returning starters, and Roosevelt will debut 12 starting sophomores.
"We are very young in that sense, but we expect these kids to come along and jump right in," Roosevelt coach Les Parilla said. "They're showing their age right now and it's going to take them a while, so we need to rely on the seniors to carry us now."
The regular season kicks off tomorrow with a doubleheader at Kaiser. Anuenue will make its regular-season debut against Kaimuki at 5 p.m., and Roosevelt will face Kalani in the nightcap.
Returning starters: N/A
On paper: The Warriors begin their inaugural season with fewer than 25 players on their roster, and none of them have had experience playing at the varsity level. However, the general excitement of having a team this season has been enough to energize the players, who will all be forced into playing both ways.
The skinny: Lineman Kelii-Pio Adams and linebacker/wide receiver Kamakai Sherman are co-captains and will be the focal points of what the Warriors do. Junior Kaehukai Nauka will handle the quarterback duties while also spending time at safety.
X factor: The excitement of playing football might not translate to a winning record for the Warriors, but they were very competitive in a one-point loss to Pearl City last weekend.
Returning starters: 11
On paper: The move to the White division should help the Bulldogs, who return a solid group of linemen, including two-sport star Keone Reyes and junior Dustin Uyeda. Senior linebacker Dolly Ainuu will be looked at to carry the defense.
The skinny: Three players are still in the hunt for the starting quarterback job. Chase Nanod should provide valuable experience at running back. The line play should be good as they return four starters from a year ago.
X factor: The quarterback position is what will make or break the Bulldogs' year. Will a rotating system work, or will Mafua be forced to go with one guy for the majority of the year and if so, how will he hold up?
Returning starters: 18
On paper: Expectations are high, as the Cougars return 30 seniors. The offense and defense should both be significantly better this year, and senior Isaac Saffrey is one of the top running backs in the state. Senior quarterback Skyler Chan might be the fastest guy on the team, and he's got a solid target to throw to in receiver Jake Esteban.
The skinny: With so much experience returning, this year is more about fine-tuning certain aspects of the team and strategizing than coaching the basic fundamentals. They are deep on both sides of the ball, and return their entire offensive line from last season. If players can keep to their roles and not try to do too much, it could be a big year for Kaiser.
X factor: Junior place-kicker Kyle Niiro is a "once in a dozen years or so" player who will give the Cougars the added advantage of having a reliable kicker. Niiro spent time practicing his kicking during camps over the summer, and has redefined his skills to the point that Samsonas labeled him as a "Division I player" in college.
Returning starters: N/A
On paper: It's a new coach, a new regime, and a new attitude at Kalani under first-year coach Oshiro. Most of the players from last year are being put in new positions to better fit the team's needs. Senior running back Dustin Kimura should make a big difference on offense, while linebacker Eben Napoleon is being counted on to anchor the defense. Both are coming back from injuries, so how well they respond will be key.
The skinny: Seniors Patrick Akau and Sam Topou will be focal points of the defensive line that Oshiro has put the most emphasis on. The Falcons have a bunch of sophomores that they hope will get accustomed to the new system as a foundation for Oshiro to work on over the next few years.
X-factors: Injuries always are key for teams with a smaller number of players, but this season the Falcons have a couple of key players returning from prior injuries. If Napoleon and Terrence Lum can get completely healthy, the Falcons have enough firepower to do some damage.
Returning starters: N/A
On paper: Senior quarterback Chase McGill and wide receiver Julius Seabrooks return on offense to give the Golden Hawks a solid pass-catch combination. Defensive ends Chad McGill and Ritchie Rosa bookend a solid defensive line that should be able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The skinny: Apisa takes over for longtime coach Al Beaver and is bringing with him a new mentality. The coaching staff is made up of a lot of ex-players from Saint Louis and Kamehameha that are preaching a new winning attitude. The Golden Hawks are coming off a tough season last year, and getting the kids to come together and see the light is the first step in building the program back up.
X factor: The offense should have enough playmakers to put some points on the board, the question is how good the defense will be. Rosa and Chad McGill have the ability to create havoc on the defensive line and Bryson Crawford should be tough in the middle. If cornerback Sateki Toli and the rest of the secondary can buckle down and avoid giving up big plays, the Golden Hawks could see some success.
Returning starters: 7
On paper: Junior quarterback Kawika Borden takes over the offense and has plenty of help in the backfield in tailbacks Micah Dela Cruz and Antoin Dewalt. The defense is led by linebackers Troy Antoque and Christian Pavo.
The skinny: The work ethic has been outstanding under first-year coach Bicoy, who takes over after 30 years as an assistant. The team has spent a lot of time scrimmaging against several Red division teams, and has done well. Borden's inexperience at quarterback could hurt early, but this team is poised to come together and be very tough by the end of the season.
X factor: Defensive back Shane Gasper's ability to come back from injury will be important, as he can be one of the most dynamic players on the field for the Chargers. Dewalt is another guy in the same category and could be used all over the field.
Returning starters: 7
On paper: The Rough Riders will start 12 sophomores this season, as they look to build a solid foundation. Senior running back Shaide Quisano will lead a youthful offense that still hasn't settled on a quarterback. Senior Hai Chi Nguyen and sophomore Lowen Kahooilihala are still battling for the job.
The skinny: Roosevelt puts as much talent as it can on defense, and linebackers Lee Inouye and Tony Fautanu should lead the unit. Senior defensive end Colin Taa should be able to make a bunch of plays as well. The offense is extremely young and might struggle to score some points, so the defense will need to be strong.
X factor: Due to school starting before Aug. 1, the Rough Riders were not able to have camps and two-a-days, so how quickly this team can come together as a unit will be the difference. Parilla says the team is "two weeks behind," and needs to gain a level of confidence.
Returning starters: 13
On paper: Senior quarterback Caleb Fore anchors a heavy-duty passing attack. He has quality receivers in Adam Foster and Josh Whittaker to throw to, or can hand it off to running backs Donovan Matas and Edwin Rubio.
The skinny: Fore should lead the league in passing, and the offense should be able to put points on the board. If seven new starters on defense can come together quickly, the Bulldogs are poised to make a run at the league title this season.
X factor: Linebacker Isiah Ramirez will be looked to to rally the defense. With so much inexperience on that side of the ball, it will make his play even more critical. There are lots of expectations being placed on Fore, and his 340-yard opening-game performance adds to that. He'll need to remain focused and ignore the pressure of expectations.
Returning starters: 11
On paper: After a tough season last year, the Marauders are poised to return to their playoff form of two years ago. Senior Gil Fernandez is back to run the triple-option, and Kalaheo transfer Matthew Soueira is expected to make a huge impact at slotback. Safety Steven Bernbt should be a difference-maker once healthy.
The skinny: It should be a much-improved year for the Marauders, who have plenty of firepower on offense. Senior Jesse Doctolero and junior Keo Palimoo return to carry the bulk of the rushing duties on offense. The offensive line will be helped by Damien transfer Robert Asui. They struggled in their first nonconference game against Aiea, but played without seven starters.
X factor: Soueira led the league in rushing last season, and his transfer to Waipahu is a huge addition to the offense. He allows Saturnio to get even more diverse with his already-tricky offense.