GLORY DAYS: Coach Abu Maafala and the 2019 Kamehameha Warriors

Abu Maafala with son Levi during his playing days at Cal. Photo courtesy Abu Maafala.

18TH IN A SERIES

This summer, head coaches from all 28 Oahu high school varsity football teams are being asked to recount their football playing days.

One coach interviewed for this multi-part series pointed out what he thinks may be the value of this endeavor:


“A lot of times, you only hear about coaches when they’re getting released or are having a special season. It’s super hard to have a special season, so this should shed more light on them as people and their journey of when they were student-athletes. It’s going to bring more respect to the people who are doing this job. They didn’t all of a sudden become a high school coach because they coached Pop Warner. These guys have gone through it all, they’ve run the gamut of experiences.”

Some made it to the NFL. Others went to big colleges. Still others went the small-college route. They started as young’uns and got the bug, falling in love with football and taking pride in passing on their knowledge.

Along with the coaches’ look-back at their football-playing pasts, they also give their outlook on where their programs are at heading into the 2019 season.

Kamehameha’s Abu Maafala, Houston Ala and Brandon Ala. Photo courtesy Abu Maafala.

PART 18:

COACH ABU MAAFALA AND THE 2019 KAMEHAMEHA WARRIORS

Abu Maafala was above the weight limit to participate in Pop Warner football, so he didn’t play the sport until seventh grade at Kamehameha.

He had a name to uphold. Uncle Chris Fuamatu-Maafala (the former Saint Louis star) was a hard-charging running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Uncles Nick (McKinley defensive lineman), Roy (Saint Louis offensive lineman), and Benson Maafala (McKinley quarterback and University of Hawaii punter) made waves in Hawaii high school football.

“If you grew up in my family, that is what you wanted to do, play football,” Maafala said. “I grew up watching them play. At first, I wasn’t very good. I almost quit. A big softy. I couldn’t hit. Some great coaches taught me how to persevere and pull through.”

In seventh grade, he played offensive line and moved over to the defensive line in eighth grade. That’s where he stayed.

“I tried out for defensive line that first year, but I was still growing into my body,” he said. “I wasn’t very athletic. They told me to go graze with the cattle on offense. But I wanted to play like my uncle Nick. I was fixated on that.”

Maafala eventually started to excel on defense.

“My sophomore year, we beat Saint Louis once,” he said. “That was kind of a big thing. That was the golden era of Saint Louis. Senior year, we tied them once.”

Maafala recalls some of the top players on those Warriors teams — linebackers Winston Hoohuli and Isaiah Alameda, defensive ends Brandon Ala and Brandon Tom, guard Enoka Lucas, tailback Kelena Hookano, and quarterback Caleb Spencer.

“Some of those players (in the classes ahead of me) were so good,” he said. “I also remember battling against teammates every day. I didn’t know it at the time, but we had all of this great talent that you went and competed against every day, playing football for love.

“We would have wars, trash-talking and spitting on faces every day at practice. Kelena Hookano, I saw him at a reunion, and he reminded me that I tackled him and spit in his face. There was a lot of smack talk.

“One of the biggest memories is we were friends, too. After practice in the summer, we would go to the Pizza Hut across from old Liliha Bakery and stay there and talk and shut the place down.”

Maafala, who graduated from Kamehameha in 2002, also remembers some of his top opponents who played on the offensive line.

“The best guy I played against was Troy Esera from Saint Louis,” he said. “He was really, really good at what he did. An inch or two taller and he would have gone really far. And Samson Satele at Kailua. I played against him for two years. He was all Mr. Hawaii and went to the NFL.”

Maafala went on to play for coach June Jones at the University of Hawaii after being offered early in his junior year.

“I got into the fire early and didn’t expect to play as a true freshman,” he said.

Maafala’s best friend in his UH days was Kila Kamakawiwoole and he wound up coaching Kila Kamakawiwoole Jr. for the Warriors in recent years.

“At UH, Lance Samuseva (who is now on Maafala’s staff) took me under his wing,” Maafala continued. “When Lui Fuga got hurt, I went in and played as a true freshman.

“We had guys like Timmy Chang and Shawn Withy-Allen on the team, so many good guys and so many good players. They took care of me and helped me become a better player.”

Maafala, however, needed a change.

“I transferred to Cal and got a scholarship there, where we had great coaches and I learned to be a man. It was a wake-up call for me. I was not really focused when I was at UH.


“Teammate-wise at Cal, we had Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson and Aaron Rodgers and at that point Cal was trending up and getting out of the bottom half of the conference. That was when USC was at its peak with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Fred Matua, Winston Justice, LenDale White. Pick anybody in that era. Those are the guys we got to play against.”

Maafala’s biggest college moment came when he had an interception for a TD against Eastern Illinois.

“It was a great rush by Kevin Jackson, who forced Tony Romo into a bad screen to the running back. He threw it right to me. I happened to be looping out. After that, Pisa Tinoisamoa out of nowhere came up and blocked the tailback for me. I tried to be Chad Owens and take off and float into the end zone from three yards out. But I didn’t look so hot. It was more of a belly flop.”

Maafala also recalls tackling one of the best college running backs of all-time.

“It was the only time I was starstruck on the field,” he said. “It was my junior year and we were playing USC. I tackled Reggie Bush and said, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Usually, I’m all hype and noise after a tackle. This time, I went on to the next play and quietly to the huddle.”

For 2019, coach Maafala is trying to get 60 minutes from his players on the field.

“Last year, it was a tale of two halves,” he said. “Either we played good in the first half or we played good in the second half. We are not far away. We gotta get those little things fixed. That’s the emphasis this year. We’re building championship habits through the summer and can really start to feel the kids buy in to the team over the self approach. We’ve really gotten better at that. When adversity hits, we’ve got to stick together and keep pushing, stay brothers, sharpen each other and pull through.

“We have Kahuku to start the (regular) season. It’s a big test to see where we’re at and how much more we need to get going. I’m really happy when I turn on the film from last year. The message we want to get across is when all 11 guys did their job, we were unstoppable, a touchdown every time. All the touchdowns we gave up on defense came when one guy decided not to do his job. We’re trying to get the kids to understand that it’s about doing your job and not that instant highlight reel.”

Maafala’s offensive goal is to complete 75 percent of the passes and be 75 percent efficient.

“That will give us a chance to win the game,” he said. “We want to run 20 to 28 plays per quarter, whether we’re scoring fast or driving. We want to get to where we are on that pace. Win, lose or draw, I’ll be happy with everyone doing the team thing. Defensively, we’re building on what we had last year. We had one of the best defenses in the state, with really, really good players. We’ve got some young guys coming up through the program and we’ve got to get them settled in quickly. We want to stop people. We could have had three shutouts last year, but gave up points late. If we hold teams to less than what our offense scores, I’ll be happy.”

Kamehameha linebacker Akalea Kapono (9), top, and defensive lineman Ezra Evaimalo (43) worked to bring down Kapolei running back Zion-Jabez Robello (5) during the Warriors’ season opener last season. Evaimalo is one of the key returnees for Kamehameha in 2019. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

2019 KAMEHAMEHA WARRIORS AT A GLANCE

>> 2018 record and finish: 4-6 (3-4 ILH Open); Lost to Punahou 35-0 in ILH Open semifinals.

>> Head coach Abu Maafala’s staff:
— Preston Pires (co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks)
— PJ Minaya (co-offensive coordinator, wide receivers)
— Mike Morita (running backs)
— Vince Acohido (quarterbacks)
— Kaimana Bernardino (tight ends)
— Eric Kane (offensive line)
— Koy Omo (offensive line)
— Kekai Iokia (interim defensive coordinator, linebackers)
— Beau Yap (defensive line)
— Houston Ala (defensive line)
— Lance Samuseva (outside linebackers)
— Mike Holt (defensive backs)
— David Maeva (assistant defensive backs)

>> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: 50 varsity, 50 JV

>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections returning: None

>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections lost to graduation: Lokahi Pauole (first-team OL); Kupono Blake (first-team DE); Hoku Arias (second-team LB); Tiger Peterson (second-team CB);

>> Players with Division I FBS college offers: Ezra Evaimalo, Sr., 6-2, 215, DL; Tanner Moku, Sr., 6-0, 180, DB; Kuao Peihopa, Jr., 6-3, 306, OL.

>> Among 2019 key returnees: Kahuike Lorenzo, Sr., OL; Kuao Peihopa, Sr., OL/DL; Ezra Evaimalo, Sr., DL; Skyler Ramos, Sr., WR; Micah Lilo, Sr., DB.

>> All-time state championships: 2 (both D-I — 2004, 2009)

>> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships: 3 (1974, 1975, 1976)

>> All-time ILH championships: 23 (1918, 1922, 1926, 1928, 1931, 1932, 1934, 1935, 1946, 1948, 1951, 1952, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1969, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2004, 2009)

>> 2019 conference: ILH Open

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COMING NEXT IN “GLORY DAYS”:

Part 19: Coach Wendell Look and the 2019 ‘Iolani Raiders


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Previously in the series:
>> Coach Darren Johnson and the 2019 Campbell Sabers
>> Coach John Hao and the 2019 Castle Knights
>> Coach Eddie Klaneski and the 2019 Damien Monarchs
>> Coach David Tautofi and the 2019 Kaimuki Bulldogs
>> Coach Kale Ane and the 2019 Punahou Buffanblu
>> Coach Mike Fanoga and the 2019 Waianae Seariders
>> Coach Bryson Carvalho and the 2019 Waipahu Marauders
>> Coach Mark Kurisu and the 2019 Leilehua Mules
>> Coach Pat Silva and the 2019 McKinley Tigers
>> Coach Kili Watson and the 2019 Nanakuli Golden Hawks
>> Coach Tim Seaman and the 2019 Kaiser Cougars
>> Coach Daniel Sanchez and the 2019 Farrington Governors
>> Coach Scott Melemai and the 2019 Kalani Falcons
>> Coach Lincoln Barit and the 2019 Waialua Bulldogs
>> Coach Savaii Eselu and the 2019 Moanalua Na Menehune
>> Coach Wendell Say and the 2019 Aiea Na Alii
>> Coach Sterling Carvalho and the 2019 Kahuku Red Raiders

COMMENTS

  1. Matt Motter July 19, 2019 4:08 am

    Abu is one of the nicest dudes you’ll ever meet!


  2. Dayle Turner July 25, 2019 8:11 pm

    Noticed no Christmas Togiai. That’s a big loss. Must be focusing on BB and VB.


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