Winning a state championship takes a lot of work, planning and just a bit of luck when it comes to injuries.
Defending a state title is rarely easier. The Hilo Vikings, 8-1 and ranked No. 9 in the Star-Advertiser Football Top 10, begin their quest with a home game against MIL champion Maui. The game won’t be at the Viks’ usual home turf at Dr. Francis Wong Stadium. Instead, it will be on the green grass of Keaau High School Stadium, roughly 12 miles east of Hilo.
Coach Kaeo Drummondo chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday.
HPW: What do you see in Maui this season compared to last year, when Hilo won the state-tourney semifinal 26-7?
Drummondo: Maui’s very similar to last year in the sense, if they have a preference they want to keep the ball on the ground. With No. 5 (Naia Nakamoto) and No. 1 (More Tongi) I don’t blame them. Two dynamic runners.
HPW: They mix things up offensively?
Drummondo: They run out of spread sets and wildcat, two-back sets. We have to understand who their playmakers are. (Nakamoto) is about 5-9, 210 pounds. (Tongi) is a little lighter, but they’re very good runners. We’ve got to keep them bottled up.
HPW: With a fairly young team on both sides of the ball, there will be a lot of excitement at kickoff time.
Drummondo: We try to talk to them during warmups, tell them don’t go crazy. Get the butterflies out and after that it’s alignment-assignment football. We’ll make whatever adjustments we have to make throughout the game.
HPW: It always rains on the east side of the island this time of year.
Drummondo: We’re used to the rain.
HPW: Kaimuki is playing a D-II state tourney game at Kamehameha-Hawaii, too.
Drummondo: Kaimuki is playing on a beautiful (synthetic) surface at Kamehameha-Hawaii. Our game is on grass. It’ll be muddy (at Keaau). We kind of like to throw the ball a bit more this year. It may affect us a little bit, but you just got to deal with it.
HPW: I remember covering BIIF games in the 1990s and when the rain got really bad, teams would switch to rubber footballs. Does that still happen?
Drummondo: Yes, it’s a rubber ball. In the BIIF, we can change it during a dead ball in between plays.
HPW: I know players have said the Baden football can be slippery. How’s the Baden rubber football?
Drummondo: Baden, we used that in the BIIF. To me it feels slick even when it’s dry. Definitely, if it’s raining, I can imagine both teams will switch to the rubber ball. It’s a lot better than the leather.
HPW: The two weeks since Hilo beat Kealakehe for the BIIF D-I title, plus the week of rest before that when KS-Hawaii forfeited against Hilo, what has it been like?
Drummondo: Yeah, one game in the last three weeks. We did some different things, especially offensively, that we like and we’ll continue to do, not our base package. Defensively, it’s great that we had to play Kealakehe again. (Kealakehe and Maui are) very similar teams. They want to line up and play physical football.
HPW: Which of your players would you consider underrated?
Drummondo: One of our seniors, a safety, Kahiao Walker, doesn’t get the most attention but when I put on the tape he’s always in the right spot, always making plays. Offensively, it’s the O-line that has progressed this year. They were a question mark coming into the season, but they’re starting to come around. We have two seniors and three juniors up front. None of them started last year.
HPW: By this time of year, everyone’s practically a season more experienced. June Jones used to say that making it to a bowl game was huge because the younger guys could get a month’s worth of reps, and by bowl time it’s practically a new year.
Drummondo: We’re in game nine or 10, so everyone’s gotten better. We were fortunate last year. For awhile there we were going in-between years. Skills would be there in the backfield and not in the front, but now we’ve got skills in the backfield and the front for two years in a row.
HPW: Now that Hilo is an established dynasty in the BIIF, is it too soon to consider the program transitioning to Open Division?
Drummondo: I’ve never thought of that. We don’t really want to go there and test them that way. The kids on this island, they all grow up together. Sometimes the score doesn’t dictate the way the game went. For the most part, it’s competitive.
HPW: How is the team feeling about the game?
Drummondo: They’re excited. Practices this week so far are good. We’re excited to play at home, one game away from going back. We love it at (Aloha) stadium. Maui came here last year and lost. They don’t want to lose again. Before we look ahead, we better be ready to play on Friday.
HPW: I shouldn’t forget your offense. Last year, you had a backup, Kaleo Tiogangco, step into the starting role and all the way to a championship, with a fast O-line and Kahale Huddleston (now at Hawaii) carrying the ball. Who’s your QB now?
Drummondo: That’s Kai Miyasato. Kai is more of a thrower and dual threat QB than Kaleo was. But he’s effective, that’s why we envisioned he could be the starter. Kaleo Ramos has been running the ball well for us so we want to keep it balanced.