FIRST IN A SERIES ON SPRING FOOTBALL PRACTICES ON OAHU
Santa Claus was not among the red-clad Kahuku football players during the first day of spring practice Monday.
New coach Vavae Tata couldn’t tell.
“It felt just like Christmas to me,” he said moments after his boys and assistants walked off the field for the locker room after their first official practice together. “I get to be out here on the football field. And I loved the turnout.”
The Red Raiders will practice daily for 10 school days in a row.
During drills Monday, Tata, the former Saint Louis School and UCLA defensive end, was keenly aware of what was going on with Kahuku’s defensive personnel.
“That’s what happens when you don’t use your hands,” he told a defensive player who allowed himself to be blocked away from a ball carrier.
Tata continuously instructed the defensive players on how to move their feet laterally while emphasizing what to do with their hands.
During team drills, you could see the excitement emanating from Tata every time the defense succeeded on the first two of four downs.
“It’s third down!!” he shouted several times. “Almost time to get off the field.”
Admittedly, Tata said the first practice started slow, but felt things got moving at a much better pace after the first 15 minutes.
“It’s normal for when they first get here to be wandering around wondering what to do,” Tata said. “It’s a new culture for them. A new setting. A new coach and staff.”
Tata will also serve as the team’s defensive coordinator and he has former Saint Louis and University of Hawaii quarterback John Hao as his offensive coordinator.
On Monday, Tata was hard on the offense, and it was all in good fun.
“Figure it out, ‘O,’ ” he said several times, and when the defense won the competition, he made the offense do 20 pushups.
“The offense will be fine,” he said afterward. “Offense always starts off slower than defense.”
Tata marveled at two interceptions by senior Keala Santiago, a returning safety.
“He is going to be very special,” Tata said, referring to Santiago’s future in football.
Last season, Santiago was a valuable piece of the Red Raiders’ stout defense and he was also a burner on kick returns and occasionally as a deep-threat receiver.
“The coaches were working on coverages and being in the right spot at the right time,” Santiago said.
“I’m glad to be back. It’s been way too long. It’s going to be my senior year and I’m going to miss it (after that).”
So far, Santiago loves Tata’s style.
“It’s a college style,” he said. “He’s preparing us for the next level, so we can get used to what we’ll see there.”
Tata has said he will run the Kahuku program like Stanford, where he was once an assistant coach. So, look for the power running game and an attacking, old-school defense.
Both Santiago and fellow safety Hirkley Latu said the new Kahuku system will have more man coverage than in the past.
“Me and Keala have been working with the younger guys and helping to coach them,” Latu said. “Some of them are brand new and out here (with the Red Raiders) for the first time.
“We’ve also been going over the defense with the returnees and getting it all down.”
Latu, who already has five Division I college offers, said he had been eagerly anticipating getting back on the field, especially since it took a long time for him to recover from a shoulder injury.
“I love the contact and the hitting, even though we’re not in pads and not really hitting yet,” he said.
Two quarterbacks got reps during the session, including junior Cameron Renaud, a lefty up from the JV squad.
There was talk among some players about an unnamed quarterback transferring in from another school, but nothing is definite yet.
Kesi Ah-Hoy, who will be a junior running back, is impressed with Tata’s commitment to academics.
“He really emphasizes it, which is what I like,” said Ah-Hoy, who was offered a scholarship by BYU last year. “He’s very educated and straightforward and wants to set the standard high. He’s really putting it onto us (the upperclassmen) that we need more graduates. So, we’re at study hall helping anyone who needs help.
“Right now (on the field), we’re focusing on conditioning and bringing up the intensity and competing. I’m really excited for this season (in the fall). We just want to bring that championship home.”