POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:24 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
Last year was supposed to be Kahuku's year. This year is supposed to be Kahuku's year. Remember when every year was Kahuku's year?
Now, things are on hold again, this time because of turmoil at the top. Coach Reggie Torres is "suspended indefinitely" because of an incident at the Red Raiders' preseason football camp. How this affects the most talented and hungry high school football team in the state on the verge of the new season remains to be seen.
One of the strange things about this is Torres is the varsity head coach and the alleged wrongdoing involved junior varsity players. From what we're told, at least part of why Torres is in hot water is because he didn't report anything to the school's administration.
However this shakes out, we know this to be true: The deck has been stacked against Torres from the day he replaced Siuaki Livai in 2006 ... and the fact that the Red Raiders haven't won a state championship since his first season at the helm hasn't helped.
In the five years since, there has been enough off-field drama to script a weekly reality show. The Hoover High School football program in Alabama that had its own ESPN show has nothing on Red Raider Nation.
"You know, it's Friday Night Lights there," said a rival coach. "Everyone in the community wants to be involved, and that's good and bad. Some of them think they know better than the coach, and some of them are willing to act on it."
Many folks on the North Shore were unhappy when Torres was selected to replace Livai, and the dissatisfaction of some has grown over the years. Sad, especially since Torres was expected to bring everyone together after Livai was forced out amid controversy.
"We think Reggie would do the best job of unifying the school community," then-principal Lisa DeLong said at the time of the hiring. And why not? Torres was a true Red Raider For Life -- a Kahuku football player who went on to become a successful wrestling, judo and JV football coach at the school. And he worked on campus ... ironically now, in charge of suspensions.
Success breeds intense interest and intense interest creates power factions. No choice for Kahuku head coach in 2006 would have satisfied everyone with a stake in the program.
AMONG TORRES' CORE values is humility, and that was a source of one of his first problems. He wanted the wildly successful Red Raiders to tone down their act and celebrate in a quieter style. This philosophy included disallowing the program's most recognizable trademark, performing the haka.
It was among the issues leading to a community petition for his firing during the 2007 season, followed shortly by about half of the team boycotting most of a practice.
Controversy struck again last year when No. 1-ranked Kahuku didn't get to play for the Oahu public schools championship and was knocked out of the state tournament before it even started. Use of an ineligible player -- one who only participated at the end of blowouts -- forced Kahuku to forfeit games and postseason eligibility.
A court appearance seeking reinstatement brought some emotional closure, but no legal relief. The Red Raiders watched as Saint Louis beat Waianae in the final of a state tournament Kahuku would have been favored to win.
It seems unfair to blame Torres instead of school administration for the result, but there it is for his detractors: a fourth year in a row without a state championship with him as Kahuku's coach. And as warped as it is, that's unacceptable to a lot of Red Raiders fans.
Now there's this suspension.
UH FOOTBALL FANS LOVE Torres, because he ended the recruiting disconnect with Manoa. The wealth of football talent at Kahuku is now encouraged to at least consider Hawaii for college, which wasn't always the case. The best example in recent years is Torres' son, Richard, who walked on and eventually earned a scholarship. He is UH's starting strong safety and one of the smartest and toughest pound-for-pound players I've ever been around.
I've always liked Reggie Torres, too. I see him as a demanding coach, a disciplinarian. But he's also a guy with a huge heart for his players.
That caring came at a price last fall. If the Red Raiders didn't suit up everyone who comes to practice and follows the rules, regardless of talent level, the ineligible player wouldn't have even been on the team.
You can't win with a roster approaching 100 kids. Well, maybe on the scoreboard, but you know what I mean. "They keep a lot of players on the team because they don't want to cut them," said a close observer of the Red Raiders. "Then they don't play and the parents get hu-hu."
And now it looks like Torres is in trouble with the principal because he, or the JV coach, tried to handle a problem internally, within the football program, and keep some kids out of bigger trouble. The right move would have been for someone to send them home.
The athletic director? He's been on leave, and apparently out of the loop when this happened.
Reggie Torres got his dream job five years ago, one for which he seemed suited. Unfortunately, these days being a high school football coach is a lot more than just coaching high school football players -- especially when the team means so much to an entire community.
Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at firstname.lastname@example.org, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.