No. 9 'Iolani digs in for third D-II title run


POSTED: Thursday, August 06, 2009

From a distance, fans — and critics — see a few shining stars surrounded by orbiting spheres.

Those who know better — 'Iolani coach Wendell Look and his sterling staff — study the program from a micro level. The Raiders are all about sifting and experimenting with chemistry until all the pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle, are in their proper places. If their head coach seems a bit preoccupied with details, including a three-day camp at Waialua that ended yesterday, he's working through codes and blueprints in his brain.

All the nook-and-cranny work means little, though, without the ultimate 'Iolani mantra: “;One Team.”; Heart plus work ethic and a little creativity have netted the Raiders the last two Division II state championships. A goal-line stand in the final minute to upset then-No. 1 Saint Louis a year ago cemented the Raiders as the premier program among smaller schools statewide.

; Even with a number of major losses to graduation, 'Iolani is ranked No. 9 in the Star-Bulletin Preseason Top 10. Not that it matters to their general.

“;It's nice that people recognize us as a program, yet we haven't proven anything yet,”; Look said yesterday. “;For me, I'm going to have to keep these kids focused on what needs to get done, not on what people think they should be. The true rankings or whatever is done on the field. Until we do things on the field, everybody to me is the same.”;

Last year, 'Iolani was unranked in preseason, but defeated Campbell 24-6 and Radford 35-20 in the state tournament. The Raiders finished No. 6 in the final Top 10.

2008: 11-3 (7-2 ILH).

On paper: Five starters return on offense to go with six starters back on defense. What they lost, though, was one of the best senior groups in the program's history: safety Breland Almadova, linebacker Carl Gibson, cornerback/wide receiver Kela Marciel, wide receivers Keenan Hoohuli and Brandon Ball, and running back Kellen Imada.

“;Those were the big-play kind of kids,”; Look said.

Marciel was an All-State first-team pick. Almadova was voted second-team All-State and Imada to the third team. Imada was especially effective in the state final, rushing for 119 yards to lead a run-and-shoot offense that actually ran 24 times and threw only 11.

Sealii Epenesa, a returning first-team All-State nose tackle, is a force up front.

“;People will be aware of his presence. He knows that he's not under the radar anymore. They're going to double-team him and be aware of where he's at,”; Look said. “;He's worked hard. He's had a good summer. I'm happy with his progress so far.”;

Quarterback Jarrett Arakawa passed for 1,912 yards and 20 touchdowns with just nine picks last season.

“;I think he needs to take more of a leadership role this year. He is one that needs to fill the void left from the departing seniors,”; Look said of the three-sport athlete. “;He's not a very outgoing, vocal kind of kid, but kids just gravitate toward him because of the kind of person he is, a smart, intelligent kind of player. He makes great decisions on and off the field.”;

        Aug. 15 Kaiser*
        Aug. 21 at Castle
        Aug. 29 Kapolei
        Sept. 5 Kamehameha*
        Sept. 12 Word of Life*
        Sept. 19 Pac-Five**
        Sept. 25 Punahou
        Oct. 3 Damien*
        Oct. 9 Saint Louis* Oct. 17 Pac-Five* Oct. 30 Word of Life Nov. 5 Damien
        * - at Aloha Stadium
        ** - at Kamehameha
        2008 (11-3)
        'Iolani 39, KS-Maui 0
        Leilehua 33, 'Iolani 14 'Iolani 11, Kaimuki 8
        'Iolani 27, Damien 21
        'Iolani 35, WLA 0
        'Iolani 48, Pac-Five 17
        'Iolani 33, Damien 6
        'Iolani 35, Saint Louis 30
        Kamehameha 9, 'Iolani 0
        Punahou 49, 'Iolani 7
        'Iolani 28, WLA 6
        'Iolani 48, Pac-Five 23
        2008 Playoffs
        'Iolani 24, Campbell 6
        'Iolani 35, Radford 20

'Iolani's offensive precision depends heavily on protection up front. Arakawa has two returning protectors in center Pires Koons and guard Grant Yonemoto.

The linebacker corps should be steady. Cody Petro-Sakuma was only a sophomore when he teamed with Epenesa to make the fourth-down sack to seal 'Iolani's win over Saint Louis. Matt Padaca, a junior, and John Foy will also be key.

The skinny: The Raiders have worked with young personnel before, but this group could be among the youngest. Defensive back/kicker Andrew Skalman saw a different level of intensity at this week's camp.

“;We're younger, so in camp we're doing a lot more hitting and a lot more live (contact). It's a little more tiring, but it has to be done,”; the senior said. “;It presents game situations to some of the guys who haven't played varsity.”;

Look has a chance to mold the young talent just the way he likes.

“;We got some big pukas to fill. The younger players need to learn fast,”; he said. “;Every program's different and does things their way. That's one of our important things that we need to get done — in order for us to be successful we need that kind of discipline. Play error free.”;

X factor: Look says discipline and elimination of mental errors are the biggest keys, but in nearly two decades at the helm, he has always found the right buttons to push. He may be an old-school disciplinarian, but he balances the chemistry well. Sometimes he does it with humor.

“;He always calls me Skally, not Andrew,”; Skalman said. “;There's another guy named Evan (Teramoto), but he reminds him of another guy who used to play, Kendall (Huang). So he calls him K.J., as in Kevin Junior.”;

After tonight's scrimmage at Roosevelt and a scrimmage with Waianae on Saturday morning, Look might have a few more nicknames to dish out.