Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, November 15, 2001


Kahuku running back Mulivai Pula has run
the 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds and
can bench press 300 pounds.

Bred to wear the red

By playing football for
Kahuku, Mulivai Pula is
living his childhood dream

Quarterfinal matchups

By Jason Kaneshiro

Mulivai Pula was born to be a Red Raider.

As a youngster growing up in Hauula, Pula spent most of his fall Fridays watching the Kahuku football team rumble up and down Carlton E. Weimer Athletic Field and dreaming of the day he would be part of the North Shore program.

"We used to come to the games and we used to watch all those stars like Ken Faavae, Itula Mili and all of them," Pula recalled. "We'd watch them and I'd think, 'I wonder what's the feeling to be on the Kahuku football team.' "

Pula satisfied his curiosity by joining the Red Raiders once he reached high school and has enjoyed a reciprocal relationship with the program. Just as the Red Raiders cherish Pula's talents as one of the state's top running backs, he remains grateful for the opportunity to play for the North Shore school.

"It means a lot," Pula said. "I was lucky I came to this school, it was the right place for me."

This season, Pula helped Kahuku maintain its place atop the Oahu Interscholastic Association as a co-champion and will lead the Red Raiders into the Chevron State Football Championships tomorrow.

Kahuku (11-0) begins defense of its state title at 5 p.m. by facing Maui Interscholastic League champion Lahainaluna in the first game of a doubleheader at Aloha Stadium. St. Louis faces Aiea in the second game at 7:30 p.m.

Castle travels to Kauai to face Waimea at Vidinha Stadium and Waiakea hosts Kailua at Wong Stadium in Hilo.

For anyone to dethrone Kahuku, they would have to contain a Red Raider attack that has outscored its opponents by an average score of 41-10 this season, thanks in part to Pula's productivity at running back.

Pula began the season by sprinting 62 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage against Skyline (Utah) in Kahuku's season debut. He continued to shred defenses throughout the regular season and OIA playoffs, rushing for 1,138 yards, scoring 21 touchdowns and averaging nearly 10 yards every time he carried the ball.

And as the games have gotten bigger, so have Pula's performances.

He rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the OIA quarterfinals against Roosevelt on Nov. 1. And last week, he led the Red Raiders to a share of the league championship by rushing for 147 yards and scoring five touchdowns in the first half of a 48-0 win over Aiea.

Pula, who had seen spot duty as a kick returner this season, doused Aiea's hopes for an upset by returning the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.

"When the big games come, he'll be in a lot on special teams," Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said. "Right now, everybody's just playing where they should be, but when we need to, he'll be out there more."

Pula has racked up his impressive statistics in limited playing time this season, as the Red Raiders' large halftime margins meant he and the Kahuku starters were often on the bench by the third quarter.

"All through the season, we didn't use him as much as we'd love to use him," Livai said. "Sometimes the situations don't allow us to do a lot of things with him."

Not that sharing bothers the 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior. A total of 12 Kahuku players ran the ball against Aiea last week.

"I just take myself out because my main goal is make everybody else play," Pula said. "That's the best feeling for me, when all of the players are playing."

Pula has also had to share the spotlight this season as a part of the Red Raiders' offensive arsenal. Quarterback Inoke Funaki has excelled both running the ball and throwing to receivers Loga Fonoimoana, James Kammerer and Moana Hafoka. Earvin Atuaia is a battering ram at fullback.

And Pula's combination of speed and power has not only made him nearly impossible to stop, but puts him near the top of the list of outstanding running backs to play at Kahuku. Two of the backs he admired growing up, Mark Atuaia and Vai Notoa, are now the team's running back coaches.

"You can go down the list, from Lakei Heimuli on down," Livai said. "Everybody had their strengths and weaknesses and I would say he would be among the top five we have had here, because of his exceptional speed."

Pula is a sprinter on the Kahuku track and field team and has run the 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds. He also bench presses more than 300 pounds.

But Pula's physical gifts are just part of the reason for his success. There's also something to be said for being born and bred to wear Kahuku red.

"A lot of these kids grew up here and that was one of their dreams, to be a Red Raider," Livai said. "I think that's one of the big pluses for this program, the pride that these kids have within them to be part of the team."


State football
quarterfinal matchups

Lahainaluna vs. Kahuku

Aloha Stadium, 5 p.m.

The road to states: The Lunas (8-1) defeated Baldwin 26-14 last week to win the Maui Interscholastic League championship. The Red Raiders (10-0) won a share of the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship with a 48-0 victory over Aiea last week.

Why to watch: Kahuku begins defense of its state title, led by an offense with game-breakers at every turn. The Lunas' defense surrendered more than a touchdown in just two games this season.

Game keys: While the Kahuku offense receives more attention, the Red Raider defense remains one of the state's best. The Lahainaluna offensive line must find a way to keep disruptive defensive ends Jonathan Mapu and Darrell Tachibana out of the backfield to give quarterback Kainoa Casco time to operate.

The undersized Lunas' defensive front needs to hold its ground at the line of scrimmage and swarm to the ball to slow down the talent-laden Red Raider offense. Kahuku showed off another weapon in the OIA playoffs, using Mapu as a tight end. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman caught a 31-yard pass and scored on a 2-point conversion against Roosevelt.

Lahainaluna won the MIL title, thanks to the leadership of a 21-player senior class, but most of the Lunas have never been in Aloha Stadium nor played on artificial turf.

Sounding off -- Lahainaluna coach Robert Watson: "I'm sure it's going to be a David and Goliath thing, but we're just going to come out here and try to represent Maui the best we can."

Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai: "The thing that's in our mind is there's a big game coming up, and if we lose it doesn't matter if you're the (OIA) champion or 11-0. Our focus is strictly on Lahainaluna and winning this week."

St. Louis vs. Aiea

Aloha Stadium, 7:30 p.m.

The road to states: The Crusaders (6-0-1) won their 16th consecutive Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship. Na Alii (9-1) finished first in the OIA White Conference and beat Waianae in the OIA playoffs for a spot in the tournament.

Why to watch: Aiea quarterback Lole Laolagi has thrown 33 touchdown passes this season. St. Louis receiver Jason Rivers leads the Crusaders with 30 receptions and 11 touchdowns. He averages more than 24 yards per catch.

Game keys: For Aiea to bounce back from last week's 48-0 loss to Kahuku in the OIA co-championship game, the Na Alii offensive line must give Laolagi time to find his receivers. Aiea's record-setting passer was on the run most of the night against Kahuku, resulting in a 5-for-17 passing performance with four interceptions.

He will face a Crusader defense that steadily improved throughout the season. Defensive end Tolifili Liufau led the team with five sacks, while linebacker Taualai Fonoti registered a team-high 56 tackles. Cornerback Jonah Lakatani picked off five passes this season.

The Crusaders have had a week off to recuperate from the ILH season, and are coming off their best all-around performance of the year, a 38-14 win over Kamehameha.

Sounding off -- Aiea coach Wendell Say: "One bad game is not going to spoil what we've done this season. ... (The Na Alii) are not going to lay down. It's a good challenge for the kids and it's a challenge they're looking forward to."

St. Louis coach Cal Lee: "Aiea's a good football team. Last week was last week and this is a new week. You have to look at what they did during the season, and focus on how well they played, not just simply last week."

Castle vs. Waimea

Vidinha Stadium, 7:30 p.m.

The road to states: The Knights (8-2) clinched a berth with a 14-13 win over Waipahu in the OIA quarterfinals and finished third in the OIA playoffs. The Menehunes (6-0) won their 10th consecutive Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship.

Why to watch: While Castle quarterback Joel Botelho can spice up a game with his ability to turn near disaster into big plays, Waimea brings a meat-and-potatoes approach. The Menehunes win with discipline and solid fundamentals on both sides of the ball.

Game keys: Castle must regain the offensive rhythm it had during the regular season when the Knights racked up 348 yards per game. Botelho threw just two interceptions in the regular season, but had six in Castle's two playoff games. He will face a Waimea defense that gave up just 14 points in the KIF season.

The Castle defense, which struggled against the run for much of the season, turned in strong performances against Waipahu and Kailua in the playoffs. The Knights will need another solid defensive effort against a strong Waimea ground game led by running backs Chesley Barba, Jordon Dizon and Rayson Cacal.

Waimea has the smallest roster in the tournament with 28 players, all of whom play both ways.

Sounding off -- Castle coach Nelson Maeda: "We're trying to impress upon the team that this is strictly business. This is not a pleasure tour. It's not something that's a reward for a successful season. We need to keep our goals and objectives in mind and it's strictly business."

Waimea coach Jon Kobayashi: "When you've got guys going two ways at the state level, it takes a toll on their bodies. We're going to try to substitute in as often as we can, but because we lack numbers on our team, we have to do it. ... They've played that way all year and I think they're used to playing that way."

Kailua vs. Waiakea

Wong Stadium, 7:30 p.m.

The road to states -- The Surfriders (8-2) captured a share of the OIA title with a 13-7 win over Castle last week. The Warriors (7-1) defeated Konawaena 14-0 to claim the Big Island Interscholastic Federation championship.

Why to watch: Kailua is seeking redemption for its last state tournament appearance, when the Surfriders lost to Waimea in the 1999 quarterfinals. Waiakea is seeking the Big Island's first state tournament win.

Game keys: The condition of the Wong Stadium turf will be of concern for both teams. With Hilo's near constant rain and three teams (Waiakea, Hilo and Keaau) sharing the facility this fall, the field has been torn to shreds.

Familiarity with playing in mud could work in Waiakea's favor, as treacherous footing may hamper Kailua's powerful running game. The Warrior defense will try to compensate for Kailua's size advantage up front by using quickness to plug gaps in the line.

But if the Warriors stack the line --and the weather cooperates -- the Surfriders can take to the air with quarterback Taleki Mailau throwing to receivers Ryan Lum and David Kaihenui.

Kailua's defense played perhaps its best game of the season last week in holding Castle to 139 total yards. Waiakea ball carriers will get to know Kailua's Felipo Mokofisi, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker with a knack for finding the ball.

Sounding off -- Waiakea coach Ed Rocha: "Right now our field is trashed. We played a game last Friday and the mud was three inches thick. I hope the forecast is pretty good for this week, otherwise it's going to be a messy one."

Kailua coach Darren Johnson: "I like the challenge we face going into someone's home town and showing them that we can play football."

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