Life in Wahiawa is a different tone, shade, taste, flavor.
However the most loyal Leilehua Mules football fan perceives it, Life After Manley has begun.
The "Man Child," Andrew Manley, is now quarterback at New Mexico State after 2 1/2 years of miraculous comebacks and magical, momentum-changing works of, well, art. Just about every time he and the Mules were backed into a corner, fans on both sides of the stadium expected something breathtaking out of the gunner. More often than not, he delivered.
Now, though, the Mules are in transition and the West has a distinctly different look and feel. Can Leilehua return to the state final? Nothing is impossible with Nolan Tokuda and his staff in charge. But the rest of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West can smell blood, and the chase is officially on.
There isn’t a weak link in the chain. Even Tokuda looks at Mililani as the top dog.
"The road goes through them. They’re definitely loaded now," the Leilehua coach said. "Two years ago, we won the JV title, but our only loss was to Mililani, and they didn’t have Trent (McKinney) then."
Leilehua foes can bank on one thing: The excitement may come from the defensive side of the ball. A deep unit of versatile athletes gives defensive coordinator Mark Kurisu plenty of ingredients in his kitchen.
"I see it at practice. Coach Mark draws it up for me after and it’s still tough," Tokuda said. "Eleven guys within 7 yards of the snap. Our defense is what I really feel good about."
Here’s a look at the division:
Coach: Wendell Say
Last year: 9-4 (7-3 OIA White)
Freddy Taliulu returns at quarterback for a run-and-shoot offense that doesn’t often ring up gaudy stats, but is highly effective thanks to Taliulu’s gritty leadership and smarts. Running backs Otto-Titan Salausa and Anae Vaa are rugged ballcarriers. Vaa is also seeing action at wide receiver.
"He’s like (former Campbell slotback) Samson Anguay with more size," Tokuda said.
Center Tuafale Faatoafe and left guard Zachery Mauga are entrenched and young; both are juniors.
Ilalio Sio, a senior nose guard, keys the defensive line, which includes defensive end Max Maafala-Maiava. Aiea got a helping hand when Taylor Taliulu, Freddy’s cousin, transferred in from Kamehameha. Taliulu, Kainoa Raguindin and Chucky Kaahanui man a solid secondary.
Coach: Amosa Amosa
Last year: 3-6 (2-5 OIA Red)
The year got off to a rough start when quarterback Maika Ulufale transferred to Radford, leaving Amosa without his returning starter at the steering wheel of the run-and-shoot offense. Justin Tago (12-for-26, 84 yards) and Nilo Agbayani-Omalza (1-for-5, 4 yards) combined for a touchdown pass and four picks in last week’s 26-7 nonconference loss to Farrington.
Coach: Darren Hernandez
Last year: 5-4 (4-3 OIA Red)
Running back Keaka Fernandez bolted for 253 yards in two scrimmages against Red East squads.
The strength of the squad may be on defense, where Toali’i Scanlan, a 6-1, 240-pound senior, patrols at outside linebacker and defensive end. Seth Roman (6-0, 190) is a key to the unit at safety.
The offensive line is led by center Manuia Ioane (5-10, 265) and left guard Samson Kaleikini (6-5, 270).
Coach: Nolan Tokuda
Last year: 9-4 (7-2 OIA Red)
Before Manley, even before Bryant Moniz (now starting at UH), Leilehua played bone-crunching defense. The new-look defense will allow some hybrid looks and maximize the athleticism of several players.
The defensive front of Melei Penitito (6-1, 200), Tuaato Matai (6-0, 235), Isaako Laun John (5-9, 220) and two-way starter Ezek Kupa Suivaaia (6-3, 280) is all new to starting, but has great promise.
Austin Schmidt (5-11, 210), Darric Matsumiya (6-0, 190) and Alakai Belisario (5-11, 190) are part of the linebacker group that can switch into coverage in an instant.
DaQuan Wyatt (6-0, 165) and Derek Cunningham (5-9, 160) could see a lot of one-on-one scenarios as the rest of the defense tries to create chaos.
Safety Ryan Pasoquen (6-1, 170) is key to the attack.
"This guy’s a Division I safety," Tokuda said. "He’s like (former Punahou safety) Brian Suite with great hands and good closing speed. He’s a missile."
Dillon Pauu (5-11, 170) brings experience to the other safety spot, while junior Russell Siavii (6-2, 190), brother of former All-State linebacker Robert Siavii, will be a special weapon of Kurisu.
The offense is much more conservative now, using the wildly popular Wildcat/flex option set with a fly/jet man in motion. Jordan Kalaau and Kenan Sadanaga are battling for the starting quarterback job.
Coach: Rod York, first year
Last year: 7-3 (5-3 OIA Red)
Besides the 1,872 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, or even the 347 total yards in a close playoff loss at Kahuku, Trent McKinney did something unusual last season. In 243 pass attempts, he tossed only six interceptions. Among passers who reached the state tourney last year, none had a rating higher than McKinney (145.3).
He has returning starter Hassan Richardson (6-4, 190) and newcomer Ervan Jean-Pierre (6-4, 190) to scan down field, and he’ll have time. York has made it a priority to give the senior slinger maximum protection, which is why most of the team’s biggest blockers have switched to O-line if they hadn’t been there already.
The multiple sets left behind by Darnell Arceneaux, now at his alma mater, Saint Louis, are still in play. McKinney’s effectiveness as a runner won’t be stifled, but he’ll hand the ball off out of the shotgun and pistol formations more rather than run wild.
Center Chase Yamada (5-6, 307) steers the front five, which also includes Cameron Lalau (6-2, 327). Safety Elijah Lagafuaina (6-0, 185) suffered an injury in last week’s 34-6 win over Kaimuki.
Coach: Fred Salanoa
Last year: 6-4 (6-3 OIA White)
The Rams return to Division I with some size, good talent and a steep learning curve. Senior Maika Ulufale moved with his family from Ewa (Campbell) and finds himself a pupil of quarterback guru Fred Salanoa. While Ulufale adjusts, the Rams have a murderer’s row of foes in the Red West.
"Campbell runs more of a vertical game," Salanoa said. "We do more of a West Coast."
Ulufale has capable playmakers in Tevita Baravilala (5-10, 175), T.J. Reid (5-10, 175), Dorsey Norris (6-1, 190) and Troy Evans (6-3, 205). Andrew Togiailua, a 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back, will also see time at tight end and running back.
Defensively, middle linebacker Cy Salanoa (6-1, 205) and outside ‘backer Krix Hugley (6-0, 195) are in the mix.
Coach: Danny Matsumoto
Last year: 5-4 (5-2)
Quarterback Puletua Wilson (6-1, 185) is a dangerous scrambler with a strong arm, but he doesn’t have a go-to weapon like Keoni Napierala-Rose (graduated) this time around.
Running back James Wilson (5-10, 160) and wide receiver Hookena Kamana (6-0, 155) could develop into trustworthy playmakers. Kanekapila Hussey, Bryson Panui and Jaylen Mitchell could all figure prominently in Waianae’s patented wing-T attack.
Sophomore defensive tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii (6-1, 300) could fill in for powerful Eleu Wilson, who graduated. Defensive ends Peter Ulu-Fano, Joshua Vallesteros-Garcia and Kaeo Alana will rotate.
The linebacker crew includes senior Chavez Kauwalu (5-8, 195).
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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