You couldn’t help but notice a twinge of disappointment in the eyes of Wendell Say after a first-round Oahu Interscholastic Association football first-round playoff loss last weekend.
You see, those same eyes before the game were probably glinting with the wonderful possibilities of what could actually happen with a win.
“The hardest part is getting the kids to reach their potential,” said Say, who knows a thing or two about coaching football. He just finished his 26th season as Na Alii’s head man.
And, if you think about it, his players certainly did not play up to their potential in the first half of the 42-27 loss at Leilehua to the Mules. That, obviously, was evidenced in the second-half effort that produced 27 comeback points.
There probably wasn’t one person in Hugh Yoshida Stadium that thought Aiea was going to score even one point, let alone 27.
When Aiea did score, Say made a brilliant move by going for two points. The conversion was successful, making the deficit 34 points (42-8) instead of the mercy-rule, clock-killing 35. It gave Na Alii time they desperately needed, but eventually did not have enough of.
“I told the kids at halftime that I’ve never known them to quit and that we weren’t going to start now. We made a lot of mistakes in the first half and kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We’re a better team than that and I didn’t want to see it end that way.”
It ended — and that shot of glory (not for Say as much as it would have been for the players he cares so much about) also known as a spot in either the state Open or Division I tournaments — did not materialize.
But, now, Say has leverage next season. All he has to do is show video of both halves and ask his players, ‘Do you want to be like this team in the first half or this team in the second half?’ ”
That second-half team was state-tournament material.
It’s a process to build a program. In Aiea’s case, that process is clear cut. It’s not a matter of ability. It’s a matter of stepping up and doing the right things at the right time.
Say, no doubt, is happy with the direction of the program. With a finish of 3-6 overall and 3-4 in the OIA Blue, the arrow is pointing up. In Na Alii’s three previous seasons, they went: 1-7 and 1-6 in 2015; 2-6 and 2-5 in 2014; and 2-6, 0-6 in 2013.