HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Waianae has reached the state semifinals in each of the last three years, helping it to a No. 6 preseason ranking.
Waianae will rely on workhorse Kekoanui
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It doesn't matter, at least in the eyes of prep football fans statewide, that Waianae has 14 starting positions open.
It doesn't matter that some of those key losses from last year's state-semifinal squad include one second-team all-state pick, two third-team selections, and five honorable-mention players.
To coaches and media, the Seariders have plenty of potential to warrant a No. 6 ranking in the Star-Bulletin Football Preseason Top 10. That's quite high for a team still in cut mode over the weekend.
The Seariders, with a new quarterback (Keoni Napierala-Rose), will take on Punahou in nonconference action on Saturday.
TOP 10 COUNTDOWN
With high school football starting on Aug. 15, the Star-Bulletin is counting down its preseason Top 10, as determined in a poll of coaches and media members:
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When you are the Waianae Seariders football team, expectations are always high.
Tolerance for anything but championships is always low.
"I think it's going to be more difficult this year, ... but we'll always work to be there."
Waianae football coach
Coach Daniel Matsumoto's team was still in cut mode over this weekend, but the voting panel of the Star-Bulletin Football Preseason Top 10 marked the Seariders at No. 6.
"I'm surprised we're sixth, that it's that high. I guess that's based on last year's performance," Matsumoto said.
Last year's team, as usual, was sparked by a physical, fast defense. Waianae reached the final of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red playoffs, losing to eventual state champ Leilehua, 12-3, and later lost to Saint Louis in the state semifinals.
This fall, they move on without several outstanding defensive backs who graduated, as well as last year's offensive spark plug, Ben McQuown.
"I think it's going to be more difficult this year, just by looking at what we've been going through at practice so far, but we'll always work to be there," Matsumoto said.
NO. 6 WAIANAE
Here's a look at Waianae's recent history and its schedule this season:
|2007 (9-4, state semifinals)
Previous four years
2006: 9-3, state semifinals
2005: 9-4, state semifinals
||at Pearl City
The Seariders have about 30 returnees, but only four returning starters on offense and another four on defense.
Running back Danny Kekoanui returns for his senior season. At 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Kekoanui packs a punch between the tackles, but also has breakaway speed on the perimeter. He was part of a committee of talented backs last year.
"Danny's going to be our workhorse. We'll probably have to depend on him a lot this year," Matsumoto said. "Danny's up for the challenge."
Quarterback Keoni Napierala-Rose (5-10, 170) is up from the junior varsity and showed some tremendous shiftiness and elusiveness in a recent scrimmage against Kaimuki. The Seariders sometimes switched out of their Wing-T set to a shotgun spread during the scrimmage.
"Keoni, so far, looks like a full package," Matsumoto said. "Coach (Bryant) Ginoza has been opening it up a lot more."
The O-line is anchored by senior Kai Afong (6-1, 270). A posse of fleet-footed receivers is led by Jahsiah Bates (5-7, 155).
Defensively, Wade Keliikipi (6-3, 250) is rock solid at tackle. Cornerback Dillon Cadirao (5-6, 150), is one of the few experienced returnees in the secondary. The linebacker crew, traditionally a trove of talent at Waianae, is also loaded with youngsters.
The skinny: Matsumoto hopes the Seariders avoid the injury bug.
"We've gotta stay healthy," he said, noting the inexperience on both sides of the ball.
If the Seariders develop the younger talent and peak in time for the playoffs, it could be a very interesting postseason for longtime fans. The versatility and potential of Kekoanui and Napierala-Rose could open new doors.
X factor: The learning curve for a young defense will likely accelerate once the Seariders settle the depth chart. Some leadership and playmaking need to arise on that side of the ball -- which is usually the case under defensive guru James Hussey -- soon enough.
STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
Danny Kekoanui has the strength to run inside and the speed to get to the edge.