>> 10-3 overall, 5-1 OIA Division I
>> Mark Kurisu is 24-9 in his current stint as head coach and 34-11-1 overall in four total seasons as Mules coach.
KEY UNDERCLASSMEN IN 2019
>> CB Selau Aiava, 5-10, 158, Jr.; QB/WR Kalei Akagi, 5-10, 175, Jr.; DE Kiaka Pio, 6-1, 235, Jr.; RB Jemell Vereen, 5-11, 180, So.; LB Ashton Raquino, 5-10, 185, Jr.
LEILEHUA THROUGH THE YEARS: 1973-2019
HISTORICAL EQUIVALENT: 2000 Waianae
Mark Kurisu‘s fourth year at the helm has produced one undeniable truth: The man knows a thing or two about defense.
The head coach led the 2019 Leilehua Mules to their first 10-win season since 2011, when he stepped in while then-coach Nolan Tokuda took a break for a year. Kurisu has been at the helm for three years in this stint, and has improved the Mules’ win total in each season. Going back to Tokuda’s final season before becoming the athletic director, and the program has improved in each of the last four years.
Kurisu cooked up a point differential of 15.8 this year, following up on an 11.6 in 2018, 6.1 in 2017, -11.5 in 2016 under Tokuda and -15.2 in 2015. No coach in the history of the program, which began in 1940, has had the team improve that number over four straight seasons.
Leilehua carried its usual outstanding offense, but it was Kurisu’s defense that made the biggest difference this year. While the Mules put up 28.2 points per game after a 31.9 mark last season, the defense allowed foes only 12.4 points per game — more than a touchdown less than the 2018 crew and more in line with the coach’s outstanding historical average of 16 papg. This year’s team allowed the fewest for a Leilehua squad since Gary Clark‘s crew gave up 7.8 in 1989. Simply put, Kurisu can put this defense up against any that he has had in his long career at the school.
Those numbers are not on the defense alone, of course. A lot of it was accomplished by field position and quarterback Kekoa Turangan was among the best in the state in that regard.
Turangan threw only four interceptions in the OIA regular season, throwing more than one in a game only twice after taking the starting job after the first month of the season. He finished with 1,819 yards and 23 touchdowns on only 250 attempts to keep the program’s tradition of outstanding quarterback play alive.
He threw at least one touchdown in each of the last 10 games but struggled when the slate got harder in the OIA playoffs and states. His top performance came when he burned ‘Iolani’s defense for 268 yards and four touchdowns just before the playoffs, but he went over 200 yards only once after that and was picked off by Moanalua four times in a game. Kalei Akagi started the season as the quarterback and was more than effective, throwing four touchdowns to one interception before Na Menehune stole two of his passes in his last game behind center. Seth Swoveland was effective in mop-up duty with 98 yards on 15 attempts with one interception.
Leilehua dialed back its passing game this year to a 50-50 split, but it had little do do with philosophy. The Mules had a revelation occur nearly a month into the season when JV star Jemell Vereen joined the varsity backfield.
By the time his feet finally stopped, he gained 919 yards with five touchdowns, the biggest yardage season for a Leilehua running back since Micah Abreu-Laybon complied 926 yards way back in 2006 when he shared a backfield with Bryant Moniz. Vereen was babied into the role as feature back, not getting more than 10 carries until his fourth game when he put up 143 yards on 14 carries against Castle. He followed that up with a 27-142 line against ‘Iolani and there was no turning back. Vereen’s most impressive performance came in the state tournament when he gashed Baldwin for 174 yards on 28 carries and he followed it up with 124 yards on 18 carries in the muddy loss to Hilo.
He never went over 200 yards like his predecessor James McGary was known to, but the Leilehua single-game rushing chart is now on notice. Damarion Smith spun his wheels until Vereen came along, and they took off together. Smith carried the ball 16 times for 34 yards in the first three games before going 19-for-107 against Moanalua with Vereen as the Robin to his Batman.
The roles eventually reversed, but Smith continued to be effective and finished as the school’s second-leading rusher with 313 yards and a touchdown. Cody Akagi and Kalei Akagi shared the feature back role before Vereen and Smith came along and struggled a little bit, but still managed to contribute six touchdowns to the cause, five of them by the starting quarterback-turned-swiss army knife. Kawela Kaluhiokalani provided tough yardage amidst the other guys’ speed, earning 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only 34 carries. Turangan was nimble on his feet when he pulled the ball down, rushing for four touchdowns and nearly earning as many yards rushing as he had attempts even with sacks included.
Jayzon Ramos finished as Turangan’s top target, hauling in 60 passes for 982 yards and 13 touchdowns, the program’s most effective receiver since Kawai Phifer collected 993 yards in 2016. He matched Jeremy Evans’ 13 scores from last year and scored in all but three games. He particularly burned ILH foes during the regular season, catching six passes for 136 yards and two scores against Damien and then six more for 134 yards and a hat trick against ‘Iolani.
Ramos struggled to find his footing after that, but scored in each of Leilehua’s state tournament contests and had a season-high seven catches at Baldwin. Kalei Akagi was probably the top option late in the year, finishing with 578 yards and four scores on 46 catches despite not catching a pass in the first month when he was throwing them instead. He went over the century mark twice and nearly did it a third time in the playoff game against Moanalua and had 19 catches in two OIA playoff games before disappearing at states where he caught only one pass for 26 yards in two games.
Jonathan Vasquez caught 25 passes for an explosive 427 yards and six touchdowns but he had trouble becoming a reliable part of the offense by being held without a catch three times, which could have been because of injury. He was held to only one catch two other times. Landyn Jumawan had nearly as many catches as Vasquez, 25-24, but turned his opportunities into 187 yards and a touchdown, but he was taken out of the offense as much as Vasquez was. Vereen was an explosive threat out of the backfield, but he caught only nine passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.The group seemed to really miss Benjamin Lockman, who had 11 catches for 91 yards in the first five games but none thereafter.
Vereen might get an even heavier load next year with Turangan, Ramos and Vasquez moving along with Smith and Konapiliahi Raymond. There is no cause for concern, though, as Kurisu and offensive coordinator Andrew Manley have done this before and will have an entire summer to draw up the Akagi show on their white boards.
2019 TEAM STATS