As usual, the two-time defending champs have talent to spare
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 7, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 4:28 p.m. HST, Aug 14, 2013
Just as every Marine is infantry, every Kahuku football player is a defender.
Red Raiders coach Reggie Torres entered camp with some decisions to make. His two-time defending state champions hit the practice field with almost every talented player on the defensive side. The top priority in camp is to decide which players to move to the other side of the ball.
"It's business as usual for us," said Torres, whose team will take an 18-game winning streak into its season opener Aug. 17 against No. 3 Saint Louis.
And even though the Red Raiders lost the state's offensive and defensive players of the year to graduation, that streak is why voters put Kahuku at the top of the Star-Advertiser's preseason football poll.
"Every season is different and we don't think about 18 in a row," Torres said, "But for us to continue it, we have a lot of work to do."
Two elite defenders have begrudgingly competed to replace the school's all-time leading rusher, Aofaga Wily, who is playing at the University of Hawaii. Starting safety Soli Afalava won the job over starting defensive tackle Salanoa-Alo Wily to carry the load in Kahuku's run-heavy offense. Torres said Wily is the backup, but Polikapu Liua will get plenty of carries.
The versatility doesn't stop there. The defensive line features Lamone Williams at end with Wily and Roman Salanoa adding to the pressure in Kahuku's playground scheme that often has only one player with his hand on the ground. Salanoa has also stood out on the offensive line and Williams is slowly becoming Kahuku's best receiver, whether he is out wide or lined up as a tight end.
Liua, meanwhile, is the starting middle linebacker. Joining him at linebacker will be Pene Kaonohi, with Hiapo McCandless, a transfer from Service (Alaska), and Clifford Ramseyer bringing speed to the outside. Ramseyer, however, won't hit the field for another three to five weeks.
The defensive backfield suffered the biggest hits in the offseason, losing all four players who were deemed All-State last season, including player of the year Kawehena Johnson. The new crop is led by sophomore Keala Santiago at safety, with Afalava next to him and Huleia Naole and Ashley Kaka on the corners. Naole moonlights as one of Kahuku's top receivers.
Sophomore quarterback Tuli Wily-Matagi is just about the only player not tasked to spend some time on defense. Wily-Matagi stands tall in the pocket and can evade trouble with the best of them, but will be asked to pass only when needed. Junior Ronald Hurlbut is the backup.
"(Wily-Matagi) is 6-foot-3 and he's got an arm," Torres said. "To have a quarterback that tall at Kahuku is a miracle."
Despite Wily-Matagi's skills, his youth means that keeping him clean is going to be a priority. Kahuku seemed to never start the same five offensive linemen in consecutive games last season in front of two-time state champion quarterback Viliami Livai. The wall seems to be shaping up to be the same mass of humanity this year, considering Kahuku started two freshmen in its first scrimmage against Campbell.
Given Salanoa's duties on defense, Donald Barenaba-Setoki appears to the only sure thing on the offensive line. Sophomore Victor Tualau has been starting at center but figures to move to guard when Kai Kubera gets back from injury.
Jake Samsel returns at kicker and Wily-Matagi is the favorite to punt.
The Red Raiders have extra time to work things out since they don't open until a week after everyone else, but that first game with the streak on the line is not going to be easy. Saint Louis plays at Baldwin on Saturday. Kahuku hasn't lost an opener since falling 35-0 to Kamehameha in 2008.
"We are in progression, just like any other year we are always progressing," Williams said. "We are not where we want to be, but we will get there."
|KAHUKU RED RAIDERS|
|Aug. 17||Saint Louis*|
|Aug. 31||at East High (UT)|
|Sept. 27||at Kailua|
|* at Aloha Stadium|
|2012 results (12-0)|