FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kaimuki's Justin Paderes leads the Bulldogs into the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference title game Friday.
Kaimuki’s mini Bulldog
The 5-foot-2 Paderes worked his way from third string to starting running back
Finding Kaimuki running back Justin Paderes might be as difficult as tackling him.
At 5-foot-2 and 145 pounds, the junior is the Bulldogs' starting running back, but despite his small stature, Paderes has racked up more than 1,000 yards this season and is among the leading rushers in the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
"His size can be an advantage because it is harder for the defense to see him coming out from behind us," center Dustin Uyeda said. "It is also harder to tackle him and he can avoid people."
The 1,000-yard plateau also represents a big accomplishment for the linemen, who set that mark as their goal for Paderes before the season.
Paderes doesn't shy away from his blocking assignments or from running into the teeth of the defense.
"I give him credit because he is a small guy," offensive lineman Alex Foster-Laifa said. "He is maybe 5-2 and there are guys as big as me hitting him."
Foster-Laifa stands 6-3, weighs 295 pounds and is one of the reasons Paderes has been able to be effective this season. The coaching staff, as well as Paderes himself, has credited the offensive line with much of the success their running game has had over opponents.
"Our offensive line has definitely stepped up this season," coach Darren Johnson said. "I always tell them that the game is won in the trenches and if we work hard then we will be fine."
Johnson, in his first year with the Bulldogs, has brought a winning attitude with him from his previous head-coaching stops. Johnson last coached at Kailua, where he led the Surfriders to an Oahu Interscholastic Association co-championship in 2001.
Senior offensive lineman Robert Pologa feels happy to be getting some of the credit, and returns the credit to Paderes. He enjoys blocking for Paderes and wishes he could continue to do so another year.
"Justin always comes up to the linemen and tells us that he wants to thank us, and I just want to thank him for taking us to the playoffs," Pologa said.
Paderes came into the season as a third-stringer. However, in a fashion that can only describe a small part of his personality, he stepped up and worked his way into a starter.
"Justin is a tremendous achiever and wants to do well," running backs coach Chris Cabellero said. "He is not a selfish person and he is a real team player."
According to Johnson, the team also suffered some key injuries at the running back position early in the season and Paderes was able to pick up the load. During that time he was able to prove to the coaches that he could run the ball well and be the No. 1 running back.
"I feel good that I earned my spot and showed everyone I could do it," Paderes said. "I just go out there, focus on the defenders and think about what I have to do and how I'm going to do it."
Although Paderes has had success this year, his poor performance in the classroom caused him to miss half of last season while playing for the junior varsity team. Paderes spoke to a counselor last school year about how he could improve his grades and this year has done so.
"He is doing a lot better in the classroom," Johnson said. "He is at every study hall and he has definitely brought his grades up."
Paderes has proven to the coaching staff all season that he is an integral part of the team.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Justin Paderes knows how to follow the big guys blocking for him. The Kaimuki runner has more than 1,000 yards rushing.
Against Pearl City last weekend, Paderes led the Bulldogs past the Chargers by rushing for 139 yards and a touchdown. With the victory, Kaimuki advanced to the OIA White Conference championship game Friday at 5 p.m. at Aloha Stadium and secured a spot in the state Division II tournament.
"I hope there are a lot of Justins out there," Cabellero said. "This is not only a big man's game, this is a little man's game and if you seek out your goal and work hard, you can get there like Justin has."
Paderes has been nicknamed "Mighty Mouse," and much like former University of Hawaii and Roosevelt High standout Chad Owens (also nicknamed "Mighty Mouse"), he has the same type of determination and desire to succeed.
As fate would have it, Paderes and the Bulldogs face Owens' old team, the Rough Riders, for the White title.