Perhaps no athletic program in the state is as name-brand recognizable as Punahou.
Beloved. Reviled. Enshrined. Hated. All true, depending on a fan’s perspective — whether a sour rival from the private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu or a distant watcher from the public-school Oahu Interscholastic Association.
Yet, for all the attention, Punahou is still a relative newcomer to the high altitude and thin air of the state’s elite football programs. Winning the HHSAA Division I state championship two years ago defused decades of frustration for Buffanblu fans who had suffered at the hands of mighty titans like Saint Louis, Kamehameha and arch rival ‘Iolani.
But last year, in defense of its state crown, Punahou fell, and fell hard. Struggling to a 5-5 mark (5-3 ILH) in a season marked by injuries, a late surge included a 26-3 win over Saint Louis. Postseason hopes were dashed by eventual state champ Kamehameha in the last week of the ILH season.
STAR-ADVERTISER FOOTBALL TOP 10
*– at Punahou; all other games at Aloha Stadium
"You just want to have a chance," coach Kale Ane said of last year’s comeback, which came after early losses to Kamehameha and ‘Iolani. "We’re expectant and excited about the possibilities."
A few early wins — the Buffanblu play Kapolei and Moanalua soon — could send them higher, but for now, Punahou is No. 4 in the Star-Advertiser Football Preseason Top 10.
On paper: Punahou will miss several All-State players who graduated, including roving defensive stopper Jeremy Ioane (Boise State), offensive lineman Kaiwi Crabb (Colorado) and safety Brian Suite (Utah State).
They enter this season with unproven talent at most positions, but have enough leadership to solidify any youthful untidiness.
Keenan Faatea is one key to an experienced offensive line, especially with quarterback Liloa Travis still not 100 percent recovered from a knee injury. Aukai Monroe, Matt Sparks, Connor Cook, Cody Tavares and Alex Keeno provide a cohesive crew that excels in the multiple sets of Punahou’s playbook.
Defensively, K.T. Tuumalo could step up as a primary playmaker behind a line that includes sturdy Feteleni Sekona.
The skinny: Place-kicker Kaimi Fairbairn has few peers. As a sophomore, he was consistent and showed 45-yard range before being voted to the All-State third team.
Offensively, Punahou could opt for a pure run-and-shoot operation, but its version of the flex option with a fly/jet man in motion has been effective. Darryl Kan, the offensive coordinator, is still the brain behind the machine that turned the program into a state powerhouse. He’s not a run-and-shoot purist, though, with his background in the West Coast offense. Punahou will likely employ play-action as a key weapon.
With more and more programs turning to the Wildcat/flex option type of package, it has become more familiar to defenses and probably easier to defend. At this point, it’s all about execution plus new wrinkles — staying ahead of the copycats.
Punahou has been pretty forward-thinking, but until the ground game is established — Steven Lakalaka has the explosion and power to become the league’s elite rusher — pressure will fall on the big shoulders of Travis (6-1, 250) and the defensive unit.
X factor: Defensive end/outside linebacker DeForest Buckner (6-7, 240) is recovering from an offseason (basketball) ankle injury. Newcomer Luke Kaumatule (6-8, 240) is a raw talent playing high school football for the first time. If and when his basketball agility translates to the football field, Punahou could have one of the best bookend duos in the state.
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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