POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 1, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 12:49 a.m. HST, Aug 2, 2013
It's a downhill attack the Leilehua Mules are embracing this season.
The Mules have excelled with a staff of creative, aerial-loving minds over the past nine seasons under head coach Nolan Tokuda. This fall, in his ninth as Mules head coach, Tokuda is steering the green-and-yellow ship toward a more grounded strategy.
Last year's Mules, with Justin Jenks at quarterback, used a passing attack that was more about ball control and creating space. Now, with Mack Eberhardt at the controls, Leilehua will put his dual skills as a passer and runner on display.
Even with the mystery of a new quarterback, coaches and media voted Leilehua No. 7 in the Star-Advertiser Football Preseason Top 10.
"Knowing that we throw the football with four, five wideouts, every year you look at your program and fit your system to your kids," Tokuda said. "We've got some kids who really should touch the football."
Eberhardt transferred in with his family, part of the give and take that comes with military life. At Groton-Dunstable High School in Massachusetts last year, he passed for 1,238 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,055 yards and 12 more touchdowns.
He won't have the sole spotlight, though. Tokuda says there are many talented playmakers, including some from a successful JV team, so the ball will be distributed all over the field. It's a bit like Boise State in terms of skill-position depth, but the hybrid, mashup-style playbook won't stray entirely from its San Francisco 49ers-Florida State-June Jones four-wide roots.
No matter who touches the ball on Eberhardt's passes and handoffs, the common denominator will usually be fullback Kendrick Nunes (5-10, 245). His role as a ballcarrier will be limited, but his talent as a bulldozing blocker will be maximized. He played defensive line as a sophomore, moved to the O-line as a junior and is now going to be a massive lead blocker as a fullback. That's a lot of power establishing running room inside and on the perimeter for running back Ikaika Piceno.
"We rewarded him by moving him to fullback," Tokuda said of the new position. "He'll go in motion. It's similar to what San Francisco ran (last season)."
Piceno, now a 5-8, 170-pound senior, has an opportunity to shine in the Mules' downhill scheme. Tokuda believes Piceno will thrive.
"He's a breakaway guy, the guy in our backfield who can get the ball at the 1-yard line and go 99 yards," Tokuda said.
As always, the offense has a multitude of sticky-fingered receivers, even with the graduation of Piceno's brother, Keoni (72 receptions, 709 yards), Josh Jenks (Justin's brother) and Nick Rodriguez.
Senior wideout Dustin Ancheta-Maeda (5-8, 150) and slotback Tristin Kamaka (5-9, 170) know the reads, but quarterback-turned-pass catcher Justin Jenks may turn out to be the glue man in the receiver corps. Jenks knows every route by heart — after all, he was the starting quarterback last year. Jenks completed 63 percent of his tosses for 1,620 yards and 15 touchdowns with only seven picks, and his 122.85 passer rating was among the best in the OIA.
With Eberhardt in the pocket now, Jenks could be the best backup signal-caller in the islands. If their roles reverse, Eberhardt would clearly be a superb backup, too. And don't put it past Tokuda and his staff to come up with healthy doses of trickeration by deploying both athletes in the game simultaneously.
Four of last year's five starting offensive linemen return, though the one loss was major — all-state second-team pick Jaryn Villegas, now at West Point. The line is in the process of adjusting to pistol sets.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Mark Kurisu lost some key players to graduation, but he also has some of the best talent in the Red West. Maake Muti (6-1, 260) and Siaosi Haunga (6-1, 260) spark the down linemen. Linebacker Alema Schmidt (6-1, 230) anchors the unit, and defensive end Torenzo Vereen (6-3, 190) is a tremendous pass rusher.