Q&A: Kohala AD Laurie Koustik on 8-man, 11-man football

With the Big Island Interscholastic Federation football picture changing, one team’s ambition is another’s caution.

Pahoa announced at the league’s recent athletic directors meeting that it would move from eight-man football to 11-man. The Daggers were 2-2 in league play last fall, but more importantly, they had more than 30 players. They haven’t played in 11-man since 1999, but the timing is right.

That prompted Ka‘u to follow suit. Like Pahoa, the Trojans finished the season with more than 30 players, and if they don’t opt to move into 11-man, they would be stuck playing eight-man with only one other team, Kohala.

For Kohala, where numbers have been inconsistent, there were 23 football players in the fall. That’s a high number for the Cowboys, but will it work in the 11-man game?

Kohala was outscored 168-26 in four BIIF eight-man games (0-5 overall). With a tiny enrollment, the Cowboys are now in a tough spot if they want to keep up with the Joneses in lieu of eight-man football. There is hope, however, that the Pop Warner program will support the high school team.

Kohala athletic director Laurie Koustik was there at the beginning when eight-man became a reality on the Big Island, a stickler for proper preparation and conditioning. Koustik has benched the eight-man program when necessary, when players did not train enough in the off-season. Now, however, the concern is with numbers.

Koustik chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday afternoon.

HPW: What’s the situation now for your football team after having good numbers in an eight-man situation?

Koustik: For us our hands are kind of tied. Pahoa made the decision to go to 11-man. Then Ka‘u decided to go. We basically have nobody else to play.

HPW: How are numbers?

Koustik: I talked to my coach (Chad Atkins) last night. We’re going to make every attempt to field a team. However, numbers have never been strong. We had 23 for eight-man. One game we were down to 17 kids. For eight-man that’s manageable. For 11-man, that’s going to be tough.

HPW: What’s a number you’re looking for?

Koustik: We think 30 is going to be the magic number. He’s spoken to the local Pop Warner coaches. They were supposed to have a Unlimited team, that’s a new division for Kohala. They’re going to cease that, that’s my understanding, to try and help us with numbers.

HPW: That would be huge. Unlimited is pretty big on the Big Island now with kids passing up high school football to play Unlimited or lighter weight divisions. I think it’s still a 130-pound limit for ninth graders to play in the Midget Division.

Koustik: Our kids are so small they can make weight for an extra year or couple of years.

HPW: That’s been the case for decades. I remember Anthony Manantan moving up from Pop Warner when the varsity football program reopened at Kohala in the ‘90s.

Koustik: We want to offer that opportunity for our athletes. It’s our only all-male sport in the fall. Without offering football, there’d be a lot of kids not participating in stuff.

HPW: How many of the 23 players will return?

Koustik: I think we graduated about eight of the 23. I’m not real familiar with the Pop Warner and what types of kids those are. My coach seems to think that they’re going to have a pretty good chance to field a (varsity) team. I’m optimistic, but at the same time I’ve seen our numbers just yo-yo in the past. I really hope we can do it. The coaching staff is gung ho.

HPW: What kind of numbers do they have at Pahoa and Ka‘u?

Koustik: The numbers were good this year at Pahoa and Ka‘u, up in the 30s and they both have size. Our kids tend to be undersized that’s why eight-man was good for us, a spread-out type of game.

HPW: I’m certain that the BIIF will have scheduling ideas to fit the needs of the football programs. I’d suggest that the three new 11-man teams have the option to play only D-II programs rather than be forced to play the deep, big teams like Hilo. Retain the four Division I teams and the four D-II teams, and let the three incoming teams to play each other plus D-II opponents. If they want to play D-I, they can schedule that in preseason or during the season as an exhibition game only.

Koustik: There was some discussion about scheduling. People want to talk to their schools, their people first.

HPW: Keeping players healthy is tough for low-number rosters.

Koustik: We’re such a small school, it’s tough for us. Our enrollment is 234 right now.

HPW: I hear the boys basketball game against Hawaii Prep last night was great. One of the HPA parents said it was rocking.

Koustik: It was just incredible. A huge turnout, and we have homecoming on Friday against Kealakehe. Any time that Kohala is competitive, the community, that’s the one sport that they support. I did expect a good crowd, but I didn’t expect so many HPA people.

HPW: Kohala is the first place I was ever offered a side of mayo for my chili.

Koustik: They still offer it.

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