Record-wise, the Nanakuli football team is doing quite well and looking like strong contenders for a league championship and a state-tournament berth.
Not so fast. Nanakuli coach Keala Watson said he doesn’t look at the positives nearly as much as he does the negatives.
And, the oft-smiling, soft-spoken Watson is no negative Nelly. The former University of Hawaii defensive lineman is concerned that when the schedule gets tougher, the type of errors the team is making now will keep them from weathering the storm.
Some of the Golden Hawks, including two-way lineman Lyle Tuiloma, a Colorado commit, were part of the team’s ride to the states two years ago. And they remember last season all too well, when Nanakuli did not make the playoffs.
“On offense, we’ve definitely got guys who can make the plays,” Watson said. “But in order to finish the season strong, we have to hold our composure. “
Watson was speaking after Saturday night’s 43-14 win at Waialua, when he counted at least five personal fouls by the hard-hitting Golden Hawks (3-0, 3-0 OIA Division II) that put a crimp in the team’s flow, especially in the second half.
Another type of second half is on Watson’s mind — the nitty-gritty stretch drive. The Golden Hawks have five regular-season games left, and their last three are against league contenders — Pearl City (4-0, 4-0), Radford (3-1, 3-0) and Kalani (3-1, 3-1).
The love for his players is evident in Watson’s eyes, when he talks about the effort they’ve been putting in.
“I attribute our physical nature to our offseason training,” he said. “They’ve been going nonstop since the end of last season. They have a bitter taste in their mouths because we didn’t make the playoffs.
“Their dedication has been phenomenal. They’ve done everything that has been asked of them, representing Nanakuli with pride.”
Tuiloma, an imposing figure at left tackle, helped make some big holes for the Golden Hawks’ option attack against Waialua.
“Lyle has been with us (JV and varsity) for four years,” Watson said. “And I’m really glad to see he’s finally getting some recognition. He is a captain and a leader and he is a top student, academically. The upside is he’s coachable. He won’t think twice if you ask him to do something. He’ll just do it. And he’s a very smart person.”
Quarterback Kale Kanehailua rushed for 100 yards on 14 carries in the win, masterfully executing the option.
Clifford Cunningham also had a big night for Nanakuli against Waialua, despite missing on field goals of 28 and 53 yards. He caught two passes for 94 yards, including a 76-yard catch-and-run that set up a touchdown. He also kicked three extra points.
Alexcio Meyers, a hammer of a linebacker, made two of Nanakuli’s four interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
Meyers is a prime example of the team’s take-no-prisoners defensive attitude, which, if not checked, could lead to the dark side of the force that Watson is worried about. That “holding our composure” thing.
Lincoln Barit, Waialua’s head coach, gave props to the Golden Hawks, but he is a bit biased. His wife, Kuulei Barit, is a first cousin of Watson’s.
“They are well-coached,” Lincoln Barit said. “He has taken that program and elevated it to the next level. He’s a good boy and I am happy that he took over the program.”
Isain Wong and Randy Manewa had interceptions that led to touchdowns for Nanakuli and Elijah Kaimi recovered a fumble.