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No. 9 Mules unveil mashup

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    Leilehua slotback Anthony Ugalino caught a pass during football practice at Leilehua High School.
    Leilehua quarterback Kaleo Aloha Piceno practiced his passing on Monday.
    The Mules’ offensive linemen ran through drills on Monday.

On the surface — the synthetic stuff that covers once-mud-bogged Hugh Yoshida Stadium’s field — the facility and its occupants seem like normal, joyful footballers.

Coach Nolan Tokuda brings an upbeat, intense vibe to every practice and game. Defensive coordinator Mark Kurisu, a recent Leilehua teacher of the year, runs an orderly and sharp unit.

Then there’s the laboratory element to Mules football under Tokuda in the past several years. Hybrid offenses galore, blending West Coast/San Francisco 49ers concepts with June Jones-influenced four-wide sets and a whole lot more from different war rooms across the nation.

The tinkering has not ended. This fall, Tokuda and co-offensive coordinator/fellow mad genius Bobby George — who helped usher in the run-and-shoot era at Mililani before departing — have unveiled a mashup that hasn’t been seen very often in the islands. It is a four-wide, tight-end formation that features a converted slotback at quarterback.

The kicker (no pun intended)? There’s no running back. Tokuda coins it RAP (run-action passing).

In his quest to spread defenses and utilize the talent pool and skill sets of Wahiawa’s finest, Tokuda assigned George to come up with a new package, and that he did. The empty-set chapter of Leilehua’s updated playbook will be tough on defenses.

Kaleo Aloha Piceno (5-foot-7, 160 pounds), a converted slotback, will have his options from sideline to sideline without quite running the option.

“Piceno is a running quarterback, so he’s different from what I am used to,” Tokuda texted on Monday morning, comparing his running ability to that of former Mules great Bryant Moniz. “He would flourish in a triple-option attack.”

And yet, the mighty Mules don’t have that wrinkle in the book. Yet.

There’s also no fly/jet man in motion during pre-snap, which would seem like a logical development over the next few crucial weeks of preseason practice.

Instead, Piceno’s reads will be quick, basic and decisive. That’s the hope.

“There’s no need to worry about a RB/QB mesh,” Tokuda noted. “We run with the quarterback and we still spread the field. We just attack where they ain’t.”

Leilehua will probably not air the ball out 400 times as it did during the Kenan Sadanaga era a few years back. And they won’t go smashmouth with a fullback and tailback. But if Piceno and his cohorts — “We have four capable quarterbacks,” Tokuda added — make the right reads, any simple QB keeper can turn into a missed tackle in space. It’s a beautifully simple way to move the chains, control the clock and rest Kurisu’s defensive ballhawks.

As Piceno evolves in a new position, the talent of Leilehua’s offensive line and the addition of a tight end — Tokuda has used a TE sparingly over the years — are key ingredients.

Gordon Siolo (6-5, 240) is cemented at TE. Whether he becomes a ground-and-pound blocker for Piceno or a mismatch nightmare for linebackers in a Kellen Winslow-type mold remains to be seen. Tokuda is certain of this: Siolo won’t be an H-back type who goes in motion to lead block and annihilate smallish rover-back defenders.

It’s the pick-your-poison aspect of the new Mules offense. With four receivers on the field, few defensive coordinators will opt to keep their linebackers on the field. Against a defensive scheme of five or six DBs, Siolo could clear a lot of open space for Piceno.

“He will be able to block linebackers on blitzes and create one-on-one mismatches in the pass game,” Tokuda wrote. “He will leak on pass routes, though, when teams don’t honor him.”

Defensively, the Mules have always been a team-oriented, swarming unit. They have one of the state’s top defensive players in safety Charles Watson, who shined at the Maximum Exposure Camp back in May at the University of Hawaii.

The junior’s outstanding coverage and ball-stopping ability led the University of Hawaii to make him a scholarship offer after the event.

“Charles will be one of the leaders of the secondary. We are able to bring him down to help with run support and even blitz from the outside,” Tokuda texted.

Watson is low key as they get, but he’s about to get maximum usage. Tokuda plans to borrow him from Kurisu for pass-catching purposes.

The Mules also return one of the top playmakers in the OIA, safety A.J. Gainwell. He suffered a knee injury late last season, but recovered and played varsity basketball.

“He is 100 percent ready to contribute at safety and special teams,” Tokuda said.

Other key offensive starters, Tokuda texted, are two-way lineman Netane Muti, wide receiver Ty Keough, and slotbacks Jadan Gilliland and Anthony Ugalino. Top newcomers include offensive linemen Tila Kenoa and Mike Austin, and slotback Hoaka Carvalho Costorio.

Defensively, Tokuda also highlighted linemen Braxton Victor and Anthony Almazan and linebacker Devin Griffiths.

Mules fans can get an up-close look at the team in scrimmages at Mililani (on Thursday) and at home against Roosevelt (on Saturday). The scrimmage with Mililani will have a semi-game format of 12-minute quarters.


Aug. 8: Punahou

Aug. 14: at Kailua

Aug. 28: Waianae

Sept. 4: at Castle

Sept. 11: Waipahu

Sept. 19: Kahuku

Sept. 26: McKinley*

Oct. 2: at Kaiser

*At Roosevelt

2014 RESULTS (6-2)

Kailua: W, 50-7

McKinley: W, 32-7

Waianae: W, 46-27

Castle: W, 41-28

Waipahu: W, 45-0

Kahuku: L, 14-21

Kaiser: W, 42-30

Campbell: L, 14-20


Coach: Nolan Tokuda (11th season, 78-38)

Defensive coordinator: Mark Kurisu

Total returnees: 22

Offense: Hybrid spread

Defense: 4-3

Star-Advertiser All-State players returning: None

Star-Advertiser All-State players lost: Deshaun Osborne (DB)

State Division I championships (1): 2007

Prep Bowl titles (1): 1984

OIA titles (4): 2007, 1984, 1974, 1940

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