STAR-BULLETIN FILE / 2006
Aiea linebacker Alex Mauga, left, is one of seven returning starters on defense for Na Alii. CLICK FOR LARGE
You don't Say, Aiea No. 9
Na Alii have lots of returnees, but must replace seven offensive starters
When he has something to say, Wendell Say says what he means.
"Who," the veteran Aiea football coach asked, "would vote us to the Top 10?"
Considering the loss of seven offensive starters to graduation, including all-state receiver Lofa Liilii, Say may be justified in his question. The defense also lost key players like linebacker Manu Ohia to graduation.
NO. 9 AIEA NA ALII
Here's a look at Aiea's results from the 2006 football season and its schedule this season:
Waipahu -- W 28-6
Kamehameha -- L 35-20
Campbell -- W 21-20
Kapolei -- L 19-14
Radford -- W 44-34
Mililani -- L 37-20
Waianae -- L 34-21
Leilehua -- L 24-20
Castle -- W 18-12
Waianae -- L 46-0
Aug. 25 -- Campbell
Aug. 31 -- Saint Louis
Sept. 8 -- at Kapolei
Sept. 14 -- Radford
Sept. 21 -- at Mililani
Sept. 28 -- Waianae
Oct. 5 -- at Leilehua
"We lost some good kids. Those are big shoes to fill," Say said.
He won't get much pity from his peers, though, not when Aiea returns seven starters on defense and has a posse of speedy returnees to spark the run-and-shoot offense.
That's why coaches and media voted Aiea to the No. 9 spot in the Star-Bulletin Football Preseason Top 10. That might perk up Na Alii, who fell at Waianae in a rout to end last year's title hopes. Aiea finished injury-plagued league play at 4-6.
Say isn't feeling giddy about losing big-play seniors and gaining a bull's-eye target, but he's not worried, either.
"We're comfortable. We have some good young players," said Say, also a longtime counselor at Aiea.
The general of the explosive offense is Keenan Naeole, who was productive at quarterback last season before suffering a midseason collarbone injury. Naeole and a bumper crop of pass catchers will have few peers in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red. A rash of injuries in 2006 provided a silver lining.
"Last year, we had a good crop of receivers," Say said. "Lofa's injury gave a lot of them a chance to play and show what they can do. That built a lot of confidence for this year, I think.
"The kids who were injured last year have worked real hard in the summer, like Keenan."
Aiea's fleet of receivers includes 6-footers James Buchanan and Aldodius Colquitt. Daniel Liilii's versatility was invaluable last year, but he'll focus on his role at running back now.
"We want him someplace where he'll be a threat, and with the receivers we have returning, they can play the slot," Say said.
With Daniel Liilii's speed and pass-catching skills, opposing defenses will be under pressure to either get in Naeole's grill or cover five fast targets with linebackers.
"Hopefully, there will be a mismatch somewhere. I don't think teams can put that many DBs on the field," Say said.
Linebacker Alex Mauga, cornerback Josh Chung and free safety David Seevaetasi are among the returning starters on defense. The experience of more than 30 returnees gives Say some comfort.
"We have a lot of question marks, but this team is very capable. It's a matter of how confident they'll be," Say said.
Aiea will open the season with Campbell, before facing Saint Louis in a nonconference game. Then comes Kapolei as the rugged OIA Red West slate resumes.
It won't be a surprise if as many as five teams out of the West occupy positions in the Top 10 this season.
"If you start from the Leeward side and work over, it doesn't get easier," Say said.