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Further Review | Sports

Coach Kamaka has Pearl City charged up

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Kai Kamaka has Pearl City undefeated after six games for the first time in school history.
  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Kamaka coaches the quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs during a practice.
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OK, this is personal. My high school alma mater is 6-0 and can’t get any love in the poll. I get it, they haven’t "played anybody." That’s how it works, it’s all about the schedule. But I don’t have to like it, do I?

Pearl City finally has a football team of which its famous marching band — and all of its alumni — can be proud. Tomorrow, the Chargers take their unprecedented 6-0 record into one of the school’s biggest games of its 36 years. They play rival Waipahu, which is 4-1.

Technically, homecoming was two weeks ago against Kalani — at home, of course. But in reality, tomorrow’s game at Waipahu is homecoming, too — for Chargers coach Kai Kamaka, and for many Pearl City grads.

"When I go to games at Waipahu, I get chills," said David Hallums, the most prolific passing quarterback in the school’s history, who graduated in 1984. "I always just thought it was our field."

It was weird. Our homecoming parades began at our school, and ended at our rival’s stadium.

Bino Neves Stadium didn’t get lights until the 1990s, so for much of its existence, Pearl City played its home games at Waipahu. Coincidentally, that’s where Kamaka went to school and was an all-state football player.

"It’s kind of like a big thing to go back and play my alma mater," said Kamaka, 37, who graduated in 1991. "The last time on that field (as a player) we were unbeaten. Now I’m bringing a team in there unbeaten. I kind of want to go back and beat the alma mater."

More than emotions are at stake.

"We both face Kaimuki in the last two weeks," Kamaka said. "Whoever wins this game makes a big move for playoff positioning (in the OIA White Conference)."

ANY QUESTIONS about Kamaka’s loyalty were answered last year before his first season as the Chargers head coach, when he returned his stipend of around $3,000 to the program. His paid assistants did the same.

"It just seemed like something we had to do to get things going for the kids," Kamaka said.

Then there’s Sean Na’auao. You may know him as a local entertainment icon. The Chargers know him as their offensive line coach. He’s a 1987 graduate who played on another rare, winning Pearl City team — 6-2.

Na’auao has had to sacrifice some gigs to coach, but he said it’s worth it. "It’s about helping out and giving them a role model."

And he said he wants this squad to break the tie with his old team; Na’auao said one more victory makes the 2010 team the first in school history to win seven games. "I’m excited but nervous for them. We started out 4-0, but we didn’t finish. Friday’s game will be our biggest test."

The Chargers face one of the best running backs in the state tomorrow. Victor Moananu rushed for 214 yards in Waipahu’s 31-20 win against Kalaheo last week. The strength-on-strength matchup of Moananu and Pearl City linebackers Cyrus Coen, Ray Cooper and Chase Tagalog could be decisive.

"He’s fast and hard to tackle, a solid, big back," Coen said.

Tagalog said they’re up to the task. "We stop the run by gang-tackling and swarming to the ball. We plug up the holes and hit hard and communicate with each other."

WHEN PEARL CITY opened in the mid-1970s, it was expected to become an athletic powerhouse because of the area’s large population (it’s still a big school, with 2,200 students). But it never really happened.

One reason is many of the best athletes in the district went to private schools. The reputation eventually went from underachievers to underdogs.

"The fact that we had nine players going ironman, it would catch up to us in the second half," said Johan Bouit, a receiver from the late 1980s who went on to start at UH. "What was difficult is that we never had size."

Kamaka is trying to change that. He has strong ties with the Pearl City and Highlands Pop Warner programs.

"Hopefully Coach Kai can turn them into feeding us instead of the ILH," Na’auao said.

Senior defensive back and captain Ronson Barrett could have gone to Saint Louis. "I decided to stay here," he said.

The hope is when Pearl City climbs in classification, it can stay there, where a school of its size belongs.

"HOMECOMING WAS CRAZY, people lined up at the end zones," Kamaka said. "We ran out of food at halftime."

Cooper said the players feel the energy. "We want to leave a legacy of great football for Pearl City. We want it to be not always about the band."

I joke with him that maybe Pearl City football produces great football players now, not just great musicians, like Na’auao, and great actors, like Jason Scott Lee.

Then it’s time to leave my old school. With the head coach within earshot, Na’auao and I agree that Kamaka’s not bad … for a Waipahu guy.

Reach sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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