[ HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS ]
PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Quarterback Bryant Moniz and linebackers Guyes Galdeira and Mene Coffin are the latest of many Leilehua Mules football casualties.
All banged up
The Leilehua football team
is hurting, but not panicking
THERE is no truth to the little-known rumor that the construction that has unearthed parts of the Leilehua campus is to build a M*A*S*H headquarters for the Mules football team.
No truth, whatsoever, but it is a fact that last year's state finalists are bruised, banged up and hanging on to hope by a thread.
For Nolan Tokuda's squad, it would be par for the course. The Mules have thrived in the role of underdog, tabbed by foes and fans as undersized, undermanned and simply, well, an old country school named after a cross-bred animal.
What they may forget is, mules are highly intelligent, resilient and loyal. Especially the ones in green and gold.
When quarterback Bryant Moniz and linebackers Guyes Galdeira and Mene Coffin went down with injuries at Kamehameha on Saturday, there was more than a hush. The Mules, down 20-7 when Moniz suffered the team's third injury, froze momentarily.
Moniz, head down, marched off the field.
"Coach, I'm done," he told Tokuda, not knowing just yet that he had a fractured right collarbone. Tokuda was stunned. His quarterback and field general wouldn't say anything like that unless it was serious.
He flagged down Joe Iosefa.
"Joe, get out there," Tokuda barked. Iosefa's eyes grew wide with shock.
"Now, Joe," Tokuda added.
Iosefa, a backup safety and third-string quarterback, had no time to warm up. He raced to the huddle and guided Leilehua downfield. Using a version of Utah's run-oriented shotgun offense, the lanky 5-foot-11 senior eventually scored from the 1-yard line, pulling the Mules within 20-14 early in the final quarter.
Kamehameha, the bigger, deeper, higher-ranked team, continued to flounder offensively. The Warriors' ground game could have worn down Leilehua's young defense. But even with rookies in the lineup, Leilehua didn't give up another point.
The Mules drove to the Kamehameha 24-yard line, thanks to Iosefa, who quickly warmed up between drives. His completions for 25 and 24 yards had Galdeira, walking with the help of crutches, jumping for joy. Maybe that wasn't a good idea for someone with two sprained ankles, but Galdeira is all energy, all the time.
"I thought we had a chance. Joe stepped up good considering he's had only eight snaps in practice," Galdeira said. "Especially going against the No. 2 team in the state.
Kamehameha held on for a hard-earned win. On the surface, it appeared Leilehua lost more than a game. Galdeira, generously listed at 5-9, may be the toughest 185-pound middle linebacker in recent Mules history. Tokuda doesn't hesitate, and hasn't for two years, to call Galdeira the "heart and soul of our defense."
The loss of Coffin, their strong-side linebacker, with a separated shoulder leaves yet another gaping hole in the Mules roster -- another gap for a team that lost four starters coming into the Kamehameha showdown.
BACKUP QUARTERBACK Guy Cantrell is sidelined four to six weeks with a fractured thumb. Right guard Frank Vienna tore his ACL in a preseason scrimmage. Running back Isaiah Lawelawe and wide receiver Chustin Senas, a returning first-team All-State pick, were dismissed for violating team rules.
Add a concussion for running back Tino Pablico, and the Mules' need for a M*A*S*H unit is easily justified.
Galdeira's left ankle has been in a brace since he stepped into a hole on the Mules' home field during a summer pass-league game. Now the right ankle is swollen and his return date is up in the air.
The play that turned his right ankle into a pretzel was a fake punt by Kamehameha's Drew Ueno. A healthy Galdeira probably makes a solid tackle at midfield. He was there, just as assigned, but when Ueno cut outside, Galdeira's ankle gave way. He stayed down for several minutes.
"That was small-kine shock," Moniz said. "Especially 'cause it was his other ankle."
Galdeira laughs it off. "Yeah, that brought tears to Mo's eyes," he said.
Coffin will be re-examined in three weeks, with surgery a possibility. Moniz, however, is a huge component in Leilehua's pass-first offense. He tried to stay upbeat Monday afternoon after one doctor opined that he will be out for eight weeks.
All this to worry about, and yet Leilehua is 2-0 in Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West play (3-1 overall). With a single, close loss to No. 2 Kamehameha, voters sent Leilehua tumbling three spots to No. 8 in the latest Star-Bulletin Top 10.
There is little time for the Mules to lick their wounds. Kapolei, one of four OIA Red West teams in the Top 10, awaits a key matchup with Leilehua on Friday. The Hurricanes have drawn capacity crowds since opening their stadium this season. Food in the concession stand is usually sold out by halftime, even during preseason scrimmages.
Galdeira said that he and all the other walking wounded will return when Moniz comes back. In reality, however, seniors like Galdeira and Coffin are staking their hopes on reserves like Jonah Mailo.
Mailo, like Galdeira, is undersized, skilled and fierce. A seasoned player who was an outside linebacker under Tokuda as a junior varsity player, Mailo switched to safety, a better fit for his 5-7, 150-pound frame. From this point on, however, he's at 'backer again, filling in for Coffin.
"He's a gamer," Tokuda said of Mailo, who can't stop pacing the sidelines when he's not on the field. "He'll come to play. He's hungry to play. He told me, 'Coach, during the game, I was so tired from walking.' "
MONIZ IS CLEARLY a leader despite his youth. After a second-team All-State performance as a sophomore, he was a standout at the UNLV camp last summer, both as a quarterback and an unintentional tutor to other passers. His faith hasn't wavered.
"I know the other guys will step up. They practice hard," he said.
Galdeira sees simple solutions to the injury problems.
"Our guys just gotta do what they do best: make plays. We got playmakers still yet," he said.
Galdeira, Moniz and Coffin rattle off a number of names. Christian Montez, a 6-4 receiver, is coming into his own. So is Tianeva Tyrell-Edra, who caught a 27-yard touchdown pass against Kamehameha.
"They all have confidence," Galdeira said. "They had it when the coaches brought in Joe."
Sophomore Josh Cruz stepped in for Galdeira. Like Galdeira, Cruz isn't huge.
"But he can hit. Not as hard as me, but he's up there," Galdeira said.
Coffin, the largest of the injured players, is also one of the quieter leaders. He'll stay on the sidelines, though Galdeira will be his usual, vocal self.
"My ankle hurts, but my mouth don't," Galdeira noted. "I'll be next to our DC (Mark Kurisu) all game, backing him up."
Moniz might not be on the sidelines much at all once kickoff ensues.
"Coach might send me up to the press box. I wanna be on the field with the guys, but if I can help more by being up there and reading the defense, that's where I gotta go," the 6-1 180-pounder said. "Other times, I wanna help Joe get mentally prepared."
Tokuda has already pared down the playbook to fit Iosefa's game, from well over 100 plays to fewer than 40. Iosefa showed a strong arm against Kamehameha, but his other strength is in running the option. Leilehua called that play just a few times during Iosefa's fourth-quarter stint.
Leave it to Tokuda and his staff of highly imaginative assistants to develop the right game plan. Part Florida State, part UH, part 49ers and even a dash of old-school Leilehua plays have been in the mix since Tokuda went 17-4 as JV coach and 11-2 last season for the Cinderella Mules.
So much of the defense is young, but talented. So much of the offense, however, rests on the shoulders of its quarterback.
"I've been through this before, trying to step up," Iosefa said. "Having more reps this week will definitely help."
IOSEFA PLAYED at Kapolei last year as a junior. He went from quarterback to receiver before finally settling in as a safety.
"Kapolei won't relax. They won't hold nothing back," he said. "They're striving for the same thing we want. I have to step it up a lot more, but it's a good challenge. I trust my O-line, my receivers, my running back."
It was the coaching staff that decided to import Utah's variations of the option. The Mules knew they had to be ready in case anything ever happened to their quarterback.
"When Bryant got hurt, I was, 'Oh man, where do we go from here?' But a friend told me there's a Chinese character for danger that is the same one for opportunity, and that's what this is," Tokuda said.
Trust, opportunity, optimism. Moniz added another element before study hall on Monday.
"He called me and said the doctor's prognosis was eight weeks out," Tokuda said. "Then he says, 'But I have good news. I just switched to Geico and saved a lot of money on my car insurance.' He's so optimistic and upbeat. He's almost like a coach. He's like a million-dollar baby."
That would make the Mules underdogs once again, just the way they like it.