CLOSING THE BOOK: 2019 Leilehua Mules

Leilehua defensive lineman Kiaka Pio (56) celebrated a tackle during the first half against Kailua. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

>> 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.

>> 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.



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.

Leilehua’s Kalei Akagi had two first-half touchdowns including this 91-yard kickoff return in the second quarter to help the Mules defeat Baldwin in Friday’s first round of the Chevron state football championships at War Memorial Stadium on Maui. Photo by Rodney S. Yap, Special to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.


Kekoa Turangan12143-250-111,81923
Kalei Akagi1355-118-36684
Seth Swoveland38-15-1920
Jayzon Ramos131-2-1400
Jemell Vereen101519195
Damarion Smith11843131
Kalei Akagi12332515
Kawela Kaluhiokalani7341732
Cody Akagi928781
Jayzon Ramos136290
Konapiliahi Ramond87201
Jonathan Vasquez10390
Jashawn Wakefield7200
Ariez Sylve-Matautia1100
Seth Swoveland32-10
Ishmael Alex22-41
Kaeo Travis-Ligsay11-40
Christian Rapis13-160
Kekoa Turangan1229-244
Jayzon Ramos136098213
Kalei Akagi13465784
Jonathan Vasquez10254276
Landyn Jumawan10241871
Jemell Vereen1091061
Benjamin Lockman511910
Konapiliahi Ramond87761
Cody Akagi912690
Ishmael Alex22290
Rayden Rulloda-Kim22230
Kawela Kaluhiokalani73200
Zane Santiago-Sanborn11120
Damarion Smith11160
Ariez Sylve-Matautia2260
Seth Swoveland3150
Vitale Afoa1121
Leilehua’s Jayzon Ramos (3) hauled in a catch against the tough defense of Damien’s Alohi Arecchi (9). Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Leilehua’s Jonathan Vasquez (1) battled his way into the end zone before he was tackled by Moanalua’s Chase Tau (2). Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Leilehua’s Jemell Vereen (34) had a 63-yard touchdown run in a win over Castle. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Leilehua quarterback Kekoa Turnagan (7) handled the pressure from Damien’s defense all game to throw for three touchdowns in a 34-26 win. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Leilehua’s Kalei Akagi put a stiff arm on Moanalua defensive back Aukai Grace in the first half of the OIA Division I final. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Leilehua’s Jashawn Wakefield (23) pressured Kailua’s Raynen Ho-Mook (2) for one of his three tackles for loss to go along with two sacks and a fumble recovery against Kailua. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.
Leilehua cornerback Selau Aiava (11) broke up a pass intended for Moanalua wide receiver Lawsen Lee (12) during overtime of the OIA D-I title game. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Leilehua’s Jayzon Ramos ran for a first down after a catch in the state tournament against Baldwin. Photo by Rodney Yap/Special to the Star-Advertiser.


  1. CentralPride December 28, 2019 11:50 am

    If the Wahiawā boys stayed home, the mules would be a contender! They should be in the open divison! They gotta bring back that Mules pride! If not do what their mililani neighbors are doing start getting a lot of “Transfers”

  2. JoJo December 28, 2019 4:05 pm

    Awesome season Kekoa Turangan

  3. Teri December 29, 2019 11:36 am

    So proud of you Kekoa! You rocked it and made it an awesome season!

  4. Bobbie December 29, 2019 2:09 pm

    AWESOME KEKOA!*@%$!&!!&*@*!$#*@!!!

  5. James December 29, 2019 7:24 pm

    Your number was called half way thru the season when your team was struggling to get wins; thru your game play you got not wins for your team but you got them to the playoffs !! If that is not a MVP qualification then i don’t know what is ?!
    You will always be a MVP to me !

  6. Jeisha December 29, 2019 8:22 pm

    Awesome Season Koa!

  7. Papa December 30, 2019 7:50 am

    Good job Mules, Wahiawa’s Pride! Defense kept us there all season, awesome group. As a whole the team did a Great job, “GO MIGHTY MULES”! After seeing replays I think officials should utilize replay on playoff games! Officials should analyze all calls after every game and officials need to be evaluated/graded after the season.

  8. Jahziya December 30, 2019 5:01 pm

    Mules did good this year keep pushing

  9. ILoveHawaii December 31, 2019 8:56 am

    If the mules were in the Open they would be in the bottom half of the division with the Govs, Waianae and Kam. They do have some good pieces of talent there but not quite enough to be competitive at the Open level. I was surprised when they didnt take the OIA Div 1 title. Hopefully, they retain some of those players being talked about and have a great off season.

  10. Malen January 3, 2020 3:56 pm

    Playoff at a baseball field was a joke! Out of all the games, it was obviously a strategic move.

  11. alan February 7, 2020 1:36 pm

    coach k you did a terrific job jellying players from the start you knew defense going win games at beginning of the season then after a little over a 1/4 of the season you change quarterback then when you quarterback startled to struggle you made Vereen your work horse and trusted your defense to hold the fort and if it wasn’t for the mud bowl you would have won it all what more can we ask you da-man!!!!

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