The friendly competitions between Punga Vea and Shairone Thompson started years ago.
As young children in the same preschool class, the future Kahuku receivers instinctively saw each other as rivals.
"I always remember me and him would try to outdo each other," Thompson said. "Whether it was Halloween dressing up, or competing on the playground."
Not much has changed these days. The two Red Raiders seniors are still playing their own version of "Can You Top This?" And they’re better off for it.
"I get one good catch, Punga always has to outdo it," Thompson said with a head shake. "And we just kind of go off from there."
Though the run is still unquestionably the bread and butter of the Kahuku offense, opponents have learned the Raiders can feast through the air, too. It’s what helped get the perennial North Shore power back to the state final last year, where it lost 34-21 to Kamehameha.
Those threats are back. With Vea at wide receiver and Thompson at tight end or out wide, quarterback Evan Moe usually has options when he scans downfield.
Vea has the speed and tireless work ethic, Thompson the imposing height and the willingness to throw a block at a moment’s notice. And both possess a humility that isn’t always found at their position.
Naturally, there’s been plenty of gamesmanship between them in preseason practices and scrimmages. But Vea and Thompson know to put that aside when it counts, and set the other up for a big play. They’ve gotten adept at converging on a single, unlucky defender and forcing him to make a choice.
"All our reads, we either read the corner or the safety," Vea said. "We usually have two guys pulling against that one person. So wherever that corner goes, there’s the other guy either in the back or the front."
Sometimes, coach Reggie Torres will move Thompson from tight end to wide receiver on the opposite side from Vea to offer defenses a different look.
Torres pushed his team hard in the preseason, knowing that improvements must be made if Kahuku is to win it all. There is an air of business about Carleton Weimer Field. Yet he allows himself a chuckle when he considers the defensive predicaments opponents will surely face in the secondary this season.
"You get two kids who can catch, both got good height. Both of them on the field is a threat. Who do you cover?" Torres said. "Our receivers are a tight-knit group. They defend each other, they back each other up. They support each other. Which makes it better when they get on the field. Everyone’s doing their part to try to accomplish their goals, especially with Shairone and Punga there."
Thompson smiled easily as he thought back to his old battles with Vea. The grin disappeared just as fast when the topic changed to Kahuku’s outlook in 2010. It’s obvious in his face: The time for play is over.
"We pretty much will do anything right now to perfect what we did wrong," he said. "Really, we’ve been practicing hard, and I think we’re going to come out strong."
Vea’s demeanor matched his old friend’s.
"Expectations are high. We want to come out full speed."
The Star-Advertiser kicked off the high school football season with unprecedented coverage, featuring top players at each position and counting down to the top teams in the state. See below for past and upcoming stories.
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