Q&A: Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez

Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez is in his 17th season in charge of the Hurricanes. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

Kamehameha. Kahuku. Punahou.

As the debut night of the newly-formed — or reincarnated — Open Division nears, the schedule for each of the nine football programs is formidable. Scary. It’s what so many coaches, players, fans and alumni wished for.

Now there’s no turning back. Kapolei plays Kamehameha on Friday at Aloha Stadium, the first time in 10 years the schools will meet on the gridiron. Kamehameha won 26-18 on Aug. 22, 2008. This time, the teams are much more experienced on the defensive side of the ball. That suits Darren Hernandez just fine. Now in his 17th season at Kapolei, the former UH defensive lineman is counting on his defensive standouts to shoulder the weight in this murderers’ row schedule. Linebacker Peni Naulu leads a stellar defensive unit.

Hernandez chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday.

HPW: Your team has no bye week until after Sept. 21. It’s a murderers’ row schedule, plus a road trip after the Kahuku game. Is this exhilarating or holy moley?

Darren Hernandez: It’s plenty of both. It’s exhilarating for the fans and the kids. I think it’s a positive step for both leagues. It would be great for the fans if all the games were ultra-competitive.

HPW: There was no preseason game for Kamehameha while Kapolei beat Castle 53-7. Any advantage for Kamehameha?

Hernandez: It’s a mixed bag, for sure. It’s tough because they haven’t played special teams in a real game yet, but, on the other hand, it’s difficult to prepare for a team from just a scrimmage.

HPW: You have a first-year quarterback who passed for 220 yards and three touchdowns, no picks in his first start. Who is Christian Rapis and who does he remind you most of?

Hernandez: Christian Rapis is only a sophomore, but he has a lot of potential. Last week was his first varsity action. He reminds me of the Karate Kid, actually. He’s very upbeat and always smiling. Great kid.

HPW: Who is your second-best offensive lineman behind Julius Buelow?

Hernandez: Elijah “Moku” Mahelona and Joe Kimmey. Mahelona is a three-year varsity player who has great feet, great technique and is very even-keeled. Kimmey is country strong and has really made some strides this year. He is going to get some looks for college, for sure.

HPW: How good is Peni Naulu? (Naulu has nine scholarship offers and has narrowed his choices to Nebraska, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State.)

Hernandez: Peni is a great athlete. He can play defensive end, outside linebacker or safety, and he has played all three spots so far. He runs like a deer for a guy who’s 6-3, 220.

HPW: Who else is key to your defense?

Hernandez: Our strong safety, Teriq Lacaden, is a special player. He is another great athlete who is a hybrid linebacker/defensive back type who has great range. Bubba White is also a three-year varsity player, much like Teriq and Peni, and he has great potential. He has been beset with injuries. He missed parts of the last two seasons, but is back at full strength now. Macael Afaese, Landan Shove, Tyger Faavi, Liam McMoore and Kevin Burkel all made big plays for us last week, as well. Overall, we are young, but they seem to love to play well together and that’s all you can ask for.

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