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Kahuku mourns loss of football co-captain

Paul Honda

The Kahuku High School football team is reeling again, but this time, the loss is greater than any game.

Word of the death of senior co-captain and linebacker George “Keoni” Tafuna reached campus early yesterday morning. Coach Reggie Torres met with his players in the wrestling room. Everyone, including team moms and friends, was in shock.

“He was already training for college,” Torres said. “This kind of stuff, nobody knows.”

A source said that Tafuna was found dead at a relative’s home, where he had been staying since the family split up. Cause of death was asphyxia due to suicidal hanging, according to Honolulu medical examiner Pam Cadiente.

Kahuku was unbeaten (10-0) and ranked No. 1 in the state before being disqualified on Nov. 6 — the day of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I championship game — due to a clerical error made several years ago.

The team was uniquely close and mature, handling the crisis with composure and class. This Red Raiders had a surplus of talent, success and humility that made them a favorite with fans and foes alike.

Part of that was because of leaders like Tafuna.

“We were really good friends. This came up out of nowhere,” said Christopher Thee, a fellow co-captain with Tafuna. “He was a really good friend to a lot of people in the community.”

Tafuna was one of the players who made the trek into town on the day of Kahuku’s last-ditch appeal to stay eligible for the OIA- and state-tournament playoffs. Tafuna and two other co-captains were turned away by the OIA at the door, but they seemed to handle the news best they could.

“People talked about setting up a second game with us and Saint Louis,” Torres said. “A lot of guys had stopped training. He said, ‘Coach, no sense playing unless we’re at the top of our game,’ ” Torres recalled.

“He was a happy-go-lucky guy, a great student, a great athlete. He gave 100 percent in everything he did,” Torres said. “When I saw him on Friday, it was all about college. We talked about a Polynesian all-star game coming up in California. He has family up there so he wanted to help with that.”

As of yesterday, there is nothing to show that his death was related to Kahuku’s football crisis in recent weeks.

“There’s no way he’d do that over a football game,” Thee said. “There’s no way we know why he did it.”

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