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Multi-talented Mustang was always a step ahead

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    Even when Jesse Carney was growing up at Kailua Intermediate, Kalaheo football coach Chris Mellor described him as "a man among boys."

Before Jesse Carney lit up scoreboards on game nights, his natural running ability highlighted many a weekday morning.

Back in his days at Kailua Intermediate School, Carney was among a bunch of seventh-graders who would kill time before the morning bell by playing football — or at least something resembling football.

After observing the muddled action, Chris Mellor, a new teacher at KIS and a coach at Kalaheo, received permission to inject some structure into the sunrise rite.

"It was just organizing chaos," Mellor recalled.

The youngsters embraced the previously amorphous game’s transformation into an intramural league of 7-on-7 touch football, and it wasn’t long before Carney’s blossoming athletic gifts were illuminated in the soft morning light.

"Even then he was a man among boys," Mellor said. "They didn’t have a chance."

Over the six years since, Mellor has watched Carney’s potential turn into jaw-dropping production at the high school level.

Carney, now a Kalaheo senior, ranked among the state’s top rushers last season and is approaching the 1,000-yard mark through four games.

Kaimuki kept him relatively contained in handing the Mustangs (3-1) their first loss of the season, a rugged 14-13 OIA White conference battle last Saturday. But Carney still finished with 122 yards to raise his total to 921, an average of 230 per game.

He delivered the most remarkable numbers of the young season in a 59-22 win over Kalani on Sept. 11, running for 379 yards and six touchdowns on just 15 carries.

Ripping off chunks of yardage out of the Mustangs’ triple-option offense, Carney figured he’d had a big night. But when he saw the final total, "I was small kine surprised."

While the numbers are staggering, Carney’s success isn’t all that stunning to those who have tracked his development since the days of morning football.

"He’s a shy young man," Mellor said. "But on the field, once you click (his helmet) on, he’s not shy anymore."

Carney operates as one of two backs in Kalaheo’s veer attack, which hinges on the decision-making of quarterback Justin Pagan and a lean offensive line that values quickness over bulk.

"I know my line is doing all the work," said Carney, who can take the ball on a dive or pitch depending on the direction of the play. "I’m just running. I’ve got the easy job."

Tackles Kainoa Lauriano and Toa Fonoimoana, guards Lole Sugituraga and Harrison Seto, center Michael Borges and tight end Quincy Mason range between 190 and 225 pounds and pride themselves on springing Carney, Pagan and running back Anthony Maglinti for big gains.

In return, Carney has been known to spring for cupcakes at lunch.

"My whole life I’ve known him he’s been real humble," Lauriano said. "He wasn’t one to fight or anything, he’s always the quiet one. Just laughs and never puts anyone down. He’s like the perfect role model."

Other than morning football in intermediate school, Carney didn’t play organized sports until he enrolled at Kalaheo. Now school and sports occupy most of his schedule as a member of the wrestling team in the winter and a sprinter on the track team in the spring.

Where coaches sometimes have to coax players away from the beach to train, Mellor has at times ordered the powerfully built 5-foot-10 180-pounder to get away from campus and play in the waves.

"When track ends, here comes Jesse; four days a week in the weight room and running," Mellor said. "He doesn’t give himself a break, and sometimes he needs to have a break. We need to tell him to take a week off."

Carney doesn’t get much of a break on game nights as a two-way player for the Mustangs, who entered the season with a 33-player roster. He also plays outside linebacker and scored on an interception return against Waialua.

The work doesn’t stop when the game is over. While Carney’s performances place him atop the statistical charts, he doesn’t consider himself above helping out with less glorious tasks that draw little notice yet illustrate his perspective.

"The day after the Kalani game, he comes back and he’s cleaning the coolers, sweeping the gym floor. He doesn’t do it because he has to, just because he wants to," Mellor said. "That’s the kind of leadership that’s going to take this program to the next level, the younger boys seeing the best players do that."


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