Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Punahou's returning talent not thinking about the past

By Jason Kaneshiro


Punahou won eight games last year and 11 the year before.

But two that went the other way tend to stick in the memory.

The Buffanblu won back-to-back Interscholastic League of Honolulu titles —pushing the program's total to 24 — and advanced to the Division I state tournament final the past two years.

Both seasons ended with losses to Kahuku, and taking that next step has been on their minds heading toward another season. But as the opener nears, keeping their focus on the tasks immediately ahead takes precedence.

"It's hard to forget, but we try to do our best to put it aside," senior quarterback Larry Tuileta said. "It's a new year and we just want to take it one day at a time. We want to finish, but we don't want to look too much ahead just because there's so much to do before that."

The return of Tuileta and receiver Kanawai Noa — both first-team All-State selections last season — provides the Punahou offense with a solid starting point. The Buffanblu were voted second by coaches and media in the Star-Advertiser's preseason poll.

For Tuileta, a two-sport standout, getting his right arm back into throwing shape after devoting a chunk of his summer to volleyball is the first priority. Back for his third season as the Buffanblu starter, he's working to build on a junior season in which he threw for 2,592 yards and 29 touchdowns against just four interceptions while completing 64 percent of his attempts.

"Switching back and forth isn't too bad, especially when you have good coaches and you've been in the program so long," said Tuileta, who has committed to the University of Hawaii in both sports. "The coaches were good about telling me what was new in the system. This is a new year, so there's a bunch of new things to learn."

While there may be some new wrinkles in the playbook, he'll have a familiar target with Noa's return. Noa averaged nearly 21 yards on his 63 receptions and caught 15 touchdown passes in a breakout sophomore season.

"To have Tui back there and, of course, Kanawai and Dakota (Torres) at tight end and a couple of great linemen, it makes you feel a little easier at night," Punahou head coach Kale Ane said. "But every program goes as its line goes. It's a work in progress.

"(Noa's) exceptional. Everyone in the state knows about him and we're trying to develop a couple other receivers to take some pressure off of him."

K.J. Sekona helped clear the way for Ryan Tuiasoa as Punahou's starting fullback last season, and moves back a few steps in the formation to take over at tailback. In a scrimmage with Farrington last Saturday, the 6-foot-1 245-pounder punched in two touchdowns and carried the ball on 12 of 13 plays on a second-half drive.

"It was the first time he really got to run the ball, and he did a very good job," Ane said. "We wanted to get him used to running. He's a big kid and he's got great hands, so it's really a nice weapon to have and he just needs to get used to it."

When the defense takes the field, attention tends to gravitate toward 6-foot-7 defensive end Canton Kaumatule.

Kaumatule sat out the scrimmage to rest a shoulder injury, but expects to be back in practice this week and is projected to be among the nation's top college prospects in the 2015 graduating class.

But like his teammates, the junior isn't letting his gaze wander too far down the road.

"I'm not too worried about the college process right now," Kaumatule said. "My dad keeps track of all of that. He's going to expose me to it in a little bit, but not yet."

Along with Kaumatule, Ane credits the senior class, which includes linebacker Tumua Tuinei, defensive back Joe Augafa and fellow lineman Ruairi Brady, for "setting the pace for us defensively."

The scrimmage with Farrington capped Punahou's camp week and the Buffanblu will have close to two weeks to build off those lessons before opening the season at Mililani on Aug. 15, the first step in a journey they hope leads to one more win at the end of the season.

"Every year's new. We've thought about it, but now it's time to concentrate on learning the concepts and strategies we have and going out and performing," Ane said.

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