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Buffanblu's bruiser

Defensive end DeForest Buckner and Punahou gear up for states

By Billy Hull

LAST UPDATED: 1:34 a.m. HST, Nov 8, 2011

DeForest Buckner is impossible to ignore.

At 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, Buckner's size alone makes him one of the more recognizable players on the field.

The Punahou defensive end is much more than just a physical specimen, evidenced by two key plays that helped the Buffanblu advance to the Division I state football tournament that gets under way this week.

Facing elimination following a 17-10 regular-season loss to Kamehameha, Buckner's sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery sealed a 31-19 win over Saint Louis to force last week's playoff against the Warriors for the ILH championship.

In the playoff against Kamehameha — the third meeting between the two schools — Buckner deflected a pass that resulted in a 93-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tim Kamana.

Leading 24-17 with a minute remaining, Buckner anchored a Punahou defensive line that stuffed the Warriors three times from inside the 2-yard line, including two quarterback-sneak attempts from the 1, to clinch Punahou's first ILH title since 2008.

"It was pretty hectic, I must say," Buckner said. "When they had us back on the 1-yard line … I could feel how much everyone wanted it and how much work everyone put in to get here, so I believed we could stop them."

Buckner was a freshman the last time Punahou won a state football title. Although ninth-graders aren't allowed to play varsity in the ILH, Buckner practiced with the team near the end of the year and was on the sideline when the Buffanblu defeated Leilehua 38-7 for their only state football championship.

"I told myself when I become a senior I want to end my season how (they) did," Buckner said. "(That team) demanded 100 percent out of each other, but I think with us, we don't really demand it, we just expect it, and I think that's why we've come this far."

It's been the bounce-back year Buckner hoped for after a rocky junior season.

A sprained ankle hampered Buckner at the start of the season, and a concussion midway through the year forced him to miss more playing time. His year ended with a partial tear of his posterior cruciate ligament.

"It was frustrating because I couldn't help my team (on the field), but was able to coach on the sideline," Buckner said. "This year has been better because I've been healthy."

Unfortunately that wasn't the case for teammate Luke Kaumatule, who at 6-foot-8 combined with Buckner to be the biggest and most talented pair of defensive ends in the state.

Kaumatule's season ended after just three games when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a 14-0 loss to Campbell.

It was especially tough for Buckner to see his friend's senior season cut short. The two were being recruited by many of the same schools and spent time together during the summer competing in various showcase events.

"We got the opportunity to go to the Nike 150 camp together (in Oregon) and it brought us a lot closer," Buckner said. "It's different without him playing because I see more double and triple teams now."

Without Kaumatule, the Buffanblu have still held teams to seven points or fewer in six of 12 games, with four shutouts. No team has hit the 20-point mark all season against the Buffanblu, who will meet the winner between Baldwin and Farrington in a semifinal game a week from Friday at Aloha Stadium.

After a competitive season facing Saint Louis and Kamehameha a total of five times, Buckner said he's looking forward to the challenge of possibly playing against teams like Kahuku and Farrington that'll bring a physical, smashmouth style of football right at him.

"In Hawaii obviously it's more OIA football with the run game, and our team kind of likes being underestimated by other people in other schools," Buckner said. "It's going to be interesting trying to stop the run game and going up against bigger guys on the offensive line."

Once the season is over, Buckner will spend more time figuring out where he wants to attend college. He has yet to take an official visit — although he says he's trying to line one up this weekend — and has been offered by every Pac-12 school except Stanford and USC.

He said he'll definitely visit California, Oregon and UCLA, and probably Washington, as well.

"Last year I didn't play much because I was hurt, so this year I have a lot more coaches calling me and seeing where I want to go to school," Buckner said. "It's been kind of crazy, but I have my parents and coach Kale (Ane) helping me and I just let them know that right now I'm about this team and putting this team first and everything else will come after."

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