When the bells ring through the halls on Kapalama Heights, the buses rev up.
Students hop on, wheels screech and roll along those sweeping turns of the upper campus. Again, again and again, a full day of busy-ness.
Back in the day when students had no choice but to trod those inclines by foot, Kamehameha had a history of football icons and rivalries with public school teams within the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu were heated, anticipated and drew fiercely loyal fans to the Termite Palace, aka Honolulu Stadium. Not long after the public schools departed from the league, coach Cal Chai ordered a set of powder-blue jerseys that set the Warriors apart from the pack — a vicious one at that. Fans embraced the new look and a string of three consecutive Prep Bowl championships between 1974 and 1976.
Wins over Leilehua (20-19), Waianae (20-14) and Radford (46-6) whet the appetites of the Kamehameha faithful, but after losses to Waianae in the Prep Bowls of ’78 and ’79, titles eluded them for a span of time that was absolutely unexpected.
Saint Louis emerged as the dynasty of dynasties from 1983 to 1999. Kamehameha? Still among the top five teams in the state, the Warriors simply couldn’t get past Cal Lee’s Crusaders until ’04, when Kanani Souza guided them to the Division I state title.
Another five years passed before Kamehameha went back to the state final, where David Stant’s squad emerged with a 34-21 win over Kahuku. The defensive unit refused to permit more than 1 yard per carry by opposing teams. Almost unearthly, to say the least.
"David’s got them on a roll. They believe in themselves and they’ve got athletic kids all over the place," Punahou coach Kale Ane said. "They’ve got Division I (college) players at offensive line, defensive line. Big, athletic tight ends, linebackers, defensive backs.
STAR-ADVERTISER FOOTBALL TOP 10
KAMEHAMEHA 2010 SCHEDULE
» Aug. 14: def. Anuenue, 35-8
NOTE: Home games at Aloha Stadium unless otherwise noted
So what follows a season like that, when the ascent of an unheralded senior quarterback, T.C. Campbell, gave this program the final, triumphant piece of the puzzle? How can they possibly replace so many quality players?
Fourteen starters graduated from last season’s 12-1 squad. Gone are offensive player of the year Ryan Ho, wide receiver Blaise Cuban, defensive tackle Landon Aano, lock-down cornerback Chaz Bajet, defensive end Beau Yap, safety Wave Ryder and punter Ikaika Marfil.
The ’09 team had one setback, losing to ‘Iolani 20-17, but otherwise routed most foes by wide margins. After the loss to ‘Iolani, only Saint Louis managed to lose by less than 10 points as the Warriors won their final nine games.
"The thing about them is, once they understand their system, they’re deadly," Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said. "Midseason, they started scoring big on everybody. Once they’re clicking, they’re such a scary team. I’ll tell you what, Coach Stant has them working, watching film, doing things the right way. He’s a great coach and he showed it last year."
Stant and his staff continue to refine the team through discipline and work ethic. The 7 a.m. workouts in camp have become an annual ritual. So has Stant’s penchant for focusing on goals one day at a time.
"We have enough pressure on the boys. A lot of them talk about going back to back (as state champions), but we don’t need to be No. 1 right now, not at all," he said.
On paper: The offensive line, including All-State third-team selection Blaze Ryder, is matched by few foes, while the rest of the offense is filled with new starters. Ryder (6-1, 260), the center, and left tackle Travis Namohala (6-3, 280) bring experience to the O-line. Last season’s crew was stellar blocking for Ho, but was very successful protecting passers out of the pistol formation.
The backfield will look different without Ho, a two-year starter. Shifty Jason Muraoka (5-7, 170), the backup to Ho, and D.J. Kawewehi (5-10, 190) are the top two rushers.
Defensively, All-State performers Kawika Stant (first team), Walter Santiago (second team) and Koa Ka’ai (third team) are back for their senior seasons.
Santiago is arguably the finest cornerback in the state, now a sturdy 185 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. Defensive end Ka’ai (6-5, 250), who has a 3.6 grade-point average and a 1,720 score on his SAT, has received offers from Hawaii, Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Texas Tech, Washington and Washington State.
At middle linebacker, Kawika Stant is key to the efficiency of the defense. He hyperextended an elbow last week during practice and is expected to miss two more weeks.
Tight end Keoni Bush-Loo (6-3, 230) is just a junior, but is already attracting recruiters.
Go beyond the top returnees, and there is a pack of hungry Warriors eager to prove they haven’t missed a beat from last year’s title team.
After seeing time as a key reserve last fall, Maka Pickard (6-2, 233) has an opportunity to step in the gap at defensive end and become a significant part of the defense. He’ll get his chances when opponents run opposite the other D-end, Ka’ai.
Personnel has changed, as well as the look and feel of practice. With Kunuiakea Stadium under renovation — the grass field is being replaced by synthetic turf — Kamehameha has no home-field games this season and has been practicing on other fields nearby.
The skinny: Coach Stant is fearless when it comes to trying out creative ideas. Two years ago, his O-line stood in the trenches with splits 2 to 3 yards wide, a move that was successful for a time. When defenses made adjustments, his blockers tightened the splits and the Warriors went to the ground game almost exclusively.
Last year’s squad was a run-first operation until Campbell became one of the state’s top passers at midseason. With junior Chris Akana (5-8, 175) and sophomore Cid Camanse-Stevens (6-1, 160) topping the depth chart at quarterback, Kamehameha will wait patiently for their development.
The receiver corps is also deep, if lacking major experience, led by senior Brock Ruelke (6-2, 185).
X factor: With Kawika Stant (5-11, 215) recovering from the elbow injury, linebacker Tiva Tatofi (6-0, 200) becomes more vital to the Warriors defense.
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.
AUG. 8 / SUNDAY
AUG. 9 / MONDAY
AUG. 10 / TUESDAY
AUG. 11 / WEDNESDAY
AUG. 12 / THURSDAY
AUG. 13 / FRIDAY
AUG. 14 / SATURDAY
AUG. 15 / SUNDAY
AUG. 16 / MONDAY
AUG. 17 / TUESDAY
AUG. 18 / WEDNESDAY
AUG. 19 / THURSDAY