Coaches chime in on Waianae’s Mauga

Waianae's Kana'i Mauga was the highest rated high school prospect out of Hawaii in the class of 2018. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Within an hour of requests to opposing coaches, all had plenty to say about Waianae senior linebacker Kana‘i Mauga.

It’s not rare to see coaches laud another team’s star player. It isn’t common, however, for them to notice the level of maturity and aloha, and that’s the case with Mauga. Here’s what coaches had to say about the 6-foot-2, 215-pound USC commit who carries a 3.2 grade-point average.

He was the prep feature in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which you can read here.

He also sat down for an extended Q&A session.

Makoa Freitas, Kahuku
“For me, as a former lineman, yeah, he pops out. He has size and athletic ability, which a lot of people do have, but it’s the effort he brings. Every down, he brings 100 percent. As an O-lineman, you can’t have any mental lapses, you can’t take any play off. That’s hard to do, especially for a high school player. If he’s lining up on you, you have to be ready because he doesn’t take any plays.

“He has a chance to be like a Terrell Suggs (linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens). He’s lean and can still fill out and can add a lot of muscle. If he can keep his speed while adding the muscle, yeah, he can be a Suggs. I believe Suggs was a running back in high school and converted him. Maybe Jason Taylor (former defensive end for the Miami Dolphins). Every down, Taylor brought it.

“He’s a good athlete. If they wanted to, he could play both offense and defense.”

Darren Johnson, Campbell coach
“He’s such a good kid, a real people person. He’s the kind of the kid who would carry the groceries out of the story for a lady, go across the street and help a neighbor with the yard.

“He’s so dangerous on the football field, and it shows because he’s a USC recruit. Everything else is just icing on the cake for this young man. Coaches like me dream about coaching this kind of kid.

“He exemplifies what Waianae defense has always been. Hard nosed, stingy, fly to the football. He’s so talented like Roland and Joey Maneafaiga. Taulia Lave, he’s in those guys’ class. You can rank him as high as Lafi Siliga. George Kauwalu was really good.

“Hat’s off to the staff for really getting the best out of his talent, using him all over the field. He plays every play. When you tell people, make your own highlight, don’t be someone else’s highlight.”

Randall Okimoto, Farrington coach
“I remember him not only this year, but last year, you know. Seeing him in the 7v7s Pylon tournament at Farrington during the summer. He’s a bonafide Division I (college) athlete. It’s no mistake that USC has offered him and other schools offered. To me, when you look at him, he’s prototypical, good size, speed, nose for the ball. Also, I haven’t seen any attitude issues as well. He’s probably a good student as well. You can tell the way he plays.

“The Waianae greats, the latest, you had George Kauwalu. Kana‘i ranks up there with those guys because he’s a game changer. You have to account for wherever he’s at. When you’re running the offense, you line up and you have to see where he’s at. They move him around and you have to know. He’s able to get a pick or cause a fumble, just disrupt the whole play. That’s how much of a difference he makes. Same difference that (running back) Rico Rosario makes. He makes such a big difference when he’s in.”

Savaii Eselu, Moanalua coach
“On video, we knew he was a run-stuffer, so running at him was out of the question. He can cover ground real quick. In the actual game, he was bigger than what I thought he was in terms of height. I thought we could get some passes over him and we got bit real bad, a pick-six. After that, I thought he might be the complete player from what I saw.

“He reminds me of (formerly of Punahou and Notre Dame, current NFL player) Manti (Te‘o). He’s not the quick, fast guy, but he doesn’t waste steps. That’s the thing about Manti, he was a 4.7 40, but he and Kana‘i don’t waste steps. I think it’s going to work out well.

Clancy (Pendergast), the defensive coordinator at USC, when I was playing at Cal, he was our DC. Kana‘i fits the scheme with what Clancy does. He’s going to be perfect for them. Clancy will have him rush more off the edge than drop. He has a better knack of attacking and putting pressure. He’s kind of that vice kind of linebacker where you can stand him up on end, pressuring and then suddenly dropping into the flats. If he sprouts a bit, that would huge. He would be an ideal edge rusher. When you’re tall and have speed, you can pinch the pocket so easily.”

Walter Young, Waianae coach
“He has been a role model of a senior leader physically, mentally and emotionally. He shows up to the workout sessions and gives his all, and motivates and encourages his teammates to do the same. He has a football IQ that is beyond his years and he has the ability to do more than just his job. An incredible playmaker!! 

“Lastly, he’s a high energy player with a relentless motor. His positive energy and his passion for the game is by far his biggest attribute. He’s very coachable and respectful. He’s respected by all of his teammates and that’s why he’s an amazing person, player and leader.

“In comparison to other great players in Waianae history, Kana‘i can be put side-by-side with them all. His passion for the game is like no other. Just like the people from the past, he leaves it all out on the field.”

Rod York, Mililani football
“The honest truth, and I told Kana‘i before the game, we’re going to go opposite him. Any play on his side, we never went underneath. He would destroy the bubbles and arrows. Everything on his side had to to be 10- to 15-yard passes. You look at the team, he’s always jumping up and knocking balls down, taking some picks to the house.

“The thing about Kana‘i, he’s everybody’s nephew. I played with his dad (Ivan Mauga) at UH, he’s exactly like the the dad, always smiling and being positive. After the game, helping the managers with the bottles, picking up balls, picking up the trash at our JPS games as an underclassman. He’s a great kid, you take away all his football accolades and he’s still a great kid. If you had a son, you’d want him to be just like him.

“The uncle, Pat Mauga, is one of our O-line coaches. Kana‘i is close to us, too. He worked out with us a couple of times. At the Super Linemen Camp (in California), he tore up Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly, St. Bosco. They couldn’t block him. It’s no pads, but our team won.

“Two years ago, Chad Kauha‘aha‘a (of Oregon State) asked me if there’s an undiscovered guy and I said it was Kana‘i. (Linebackers coach) Johnny Nansen of USC texted me and asked who is the best football player in Hawaii, and I couldn’t pick my own guys. I gave him two names: (Saint Louis defensive tackle Faatui) Tuitele and Kana‘i. They’re two different type of players. Couple of weeks later, he gets the offer from SC. The kid works hard, non-stop, definitely a hell of a player on the field but even a better person off the field.

“He has the grades, the study habits, the parental support. And he has a lot of uncles who will stay on him.”

Darren Hernandez, Kapolei
“He’s in that category. Waianae has a rich history of outstanding linebackers. When I played in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Waianae had some great LBs like Joe Masaniai, Moreli Toilolo, Gordon Aken and Lafi Siliga. Then in the ‘90s, they had guys like Fa‘a Maga, Taulia Lave, Alika Manners and Benie Pave.

“Then George Kauwalu was part of a great tandem in the mid ‘00s with David Pa‘aluhi. Just an amazing array of talent at that position. Kana‘i Mauga is the total package. He can rush the passer, cover slots and tight ends, and stop the run. His ability to play in space is rare.”


  1. TooMeke November 7, 2017 5:12 am

    Congrats on a great HS career. Good luck on your future endeavors. Looking forward to watching you play on Saturdays, and maybe even Sundays. Hope you have an injury-free career.

  2. ??? November 7, 2017 8:02 pm

    IMHO he should be the DPOTY!!

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