FOURTH 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 who has already been 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.
COACH DAVID TAUTOFI AND THE 2019 KAIMUKI BULLDOGS
David Tautofi didn’t play football until he was a sophomore in high school, but he didn’t waste time after that in making a name for himself.
“I was playing baseball and basketball since I was 5 and I was convinced I was going to pursue baseball,” he said.
He played third base, shortstop and pitcher, but he had one big problem.
“I was always trying to kill the ball,” Tautofi said. “When I got to summer practice for Kaimuki baseball the first time, I saw the fence for the tennis court and the first thing I thought of was to whack it over the fence. I wasn’t even paying attention to practice or coaches or making myself noticed. Just — over the wall.”
When he first got on the football team at Kaimuki, he played wide receiver and tight end and was trying out for quarterback for about a month. He also played linebacker and defensive line on a small team. By his senior year, he was on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Then, it was one year at Missouri Valley and one year at Fresno City College before he became a junior college All-American and got 29 Division I offers and chose UCLA.
“When I first got to Fresno, no one knew who I was,” he said. “They were already one of the top Northern California teams. I was fourth or fifth on the depth chart and playing special teams. I was also a long snapper. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity I could get.
“When it was time to decide where to go, UCLA is what grabbed me. It used to take three flights to get to Missouri Valley, and then at Fresno, you had to fly in to somewhere else and drive there. UCLA was perfect. One flight from Hawaii and knowing my family could come and watch my games. Plus, UCLA is a prestigious program in academics and athletics that people in Hawaii admire more than you hear them say.”
Tautofi was pumped to be on a great team, but still feels the pain of what could have been.
“When I got there, I still had a lot to learn. UCLA was in the Top 25. We had DeShaun Foster, a Heisman candidate. We beat Michigan. We beat Alabama and we were in the top 5 by the middle of the season. I was around all these 5-star athletes and realizing what my experiences were compared to everybody else. I had a lot of growing to do personally, being more disciplined, to have more faith in myself than what I was giving myself credit for. I got to play in the first three games of the season and then redshirted. I didn’t feel ready. We went to Alabama that year. We beat them on Game Day for ESPN. I stepped on the field, my first snap, and saw the O-line, 6-8, 6-6, towering monsters of men that I hadn’t seen often. These guys were NFL big. Man, I was thinking I need a little bit more time.”
Later on, Tautofi was named the scout team player of the year.
“Mark Webber, who is the UH offensive line coach now, was UCLA’s line coach then,” Tautofi said. “I made life miserable for those guys. I was the Palolo boy scuffling with one of the haole boys. It was always the Palolo boy vs. one of the mainland kids.”
Tautofi was a long snapper at Fresno City College because of Webber, who was also there at that time.
“When I go over to UH, we always talk story,” Tautofi said about Webber.
Tautofi likes to point out that when he was at Kaimuki, he didn’t have one college offer.
“Not even a look by UH,” he said.
In that 2001 season, UCLA was 6-2 and Foster was looking Heisman worthy when the school determined that Foster was ineligible because he was found driving a Ford Expedition that was connected to a sports agent. The squad finished 7-4.
“Had DeShaun Foster not gotten into trouble, I truly believe we would have been in the national championship game that year. That’s how crucial it was. Everything went south.”
Tautofi recalls playing against Maurice Jones-Drew (in practice) and Southern Cal Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer.
“I realized how big Palmer was when I hit him,” he said. “Ouch, that hurt a little bit.”
The fears of not making it were real for Tautofi, and he knows that kids today feel the pressure of trying to make it in football or in life.
“I struggled,” he said. “I would have to say, ‘Dave, you can do this.’ It was hard being from Palolo, constantly thinking I can’t do it and ‘What if I’m not good enough?’ That’s the same thoughts our boys have today. It makes me fearful for kids today. Depression is real. The live in the smoke and hype of social media. What if they don’t get offers? They take it all on themselves, the disappointment. Many are clueless for their plan for life.”
Tautofi’s Bulldogs are always a tough customer in OIA Division II. They were runner-up to Roosevelt a year ago and won a state-tournament game.
“Success at Kaimuki stems from everything underneath,” Tautofi said. “Sama (Paama, a 2019 Kaimuki grad who is off to play for Washington this fall) did something no one else thought could happen. He burst on the scene and then you see the (social media) comments. Too bad he’s from Kaimuki. That discredited Sama. That discredited me. At that time, I took it personal. I grew from that. This has never been about me. It’s about the kids. Sama is a true testament about the philosophy and mind-set of our kids. What’s hurting our kids and destroying our kids is not being addressed as deep as it should.”
Tautofi was a head varsity basketball coach and an assistant football coach at Calvary Chapel Christian in Las Vegas before becoming head football coach there for five seasons. He’s going into his fifth season as the Bulldogs’ head man.
“When my playing days were done, it took a long time to become a coach,” he said. “I was burned out from playing and had no real aspirations to be a coach. I didn’t really have time.”
About 10 years ago, Tautofi’s brother, Desmond, transferred out to Calvary to play football as a senior and David jumped on as a volunteer coach.
“I missed a good chunk of Desmond’s growing up,” the coach said. “But he was eventually ineligible in Las Vegas. It broke my heart. But I’m glad he stuck with it. He could have easily gone home. He ended up getting a full ride to UNLV.”
Tautofi is trying to get the Bulldogs to the next step in their evolution.
“Every year has been fortunate enough to be a stepping stone to building a program and we continue to build it,” he said. “In 2014, Kaimuki was 2-6. We’ve been 6-2, 5-2, 6-2 and 7-0. It shows good consistency and a lot for the coaches and players to be proud of.
“It confirms that something is working. It’s good encouragement. What we’ve been doing is successful. This year is not going to be any different. We want this year to be another stepping stone. It’s another opportunity to be able to get to reach our goal and bring a championship to the community. The only people who believe in the dream and vision is the team. We were underdogs the first couple of years. Now people are circling Kaimuki. After losing to Waialua in the 2016 (OIA) title game, we beat them 64-0 in the first game of 2017.
“This year, it really is about winning the championship, and to get to the top you’ve got to be flawless. We’ve got a lot on our plate and I hope we can get better than we were last year and learn from last year’s mistakes — a team with attitude that’s going to fight.”
2019 Kaimuki Bulldogs AT A GLANCE
>> 2018 record and finish: 10-3 (7-0 OIA Division II); defeated Kaiser 30-14 in the OIA D-II semifinals; lost to Roosevelt 28-18 in the OIA D-II title game; defeated Kamehameha-Hawaii 28-27 in the first round of the D-II state tournament; lost to Kapaa 20-12 in the D-II state-tournament semifinals.
>> Head coach David Tautofi’s staff:
— Daniel Tautofi (defensive coordinator)
— Keith Ah Yuen (co-defensive coordinator)
— Jamar Chandler (offensive line)
— Moses Ringwood (special teams)
— Jeremy Chong (running backs)
— Chris Wilhelm
— Kawehi Moefu
— Darrell Tautofi
— Allen Fortson
— Matt Loa
— Clinton Burns
— Ishmael Membrere
>> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: Varsity 25, JV 20
>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections lost to graduation: Sama Paama (first-team DT, second-team OL)
>> Among 2019 key returnees: Naomas Asuega-Fualaau, Sr., RB, 6-0, 200; Kaulana Kaluna, Sr., LB, 6-0, 213; KJ Navarez, So., DL, 5-8, 190; Jonah Faasoa, Sr., QB, 6-2, 247; Tasi Komiti, Sr., OL, 6-1, 258.
>> All-time state championships: None
>> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships: None
>> All-time OIA championships: 2 (both D-II, 2007, 2010)
>> 2019 conference: OIA Division II
COMING NEXT IN “GLORY DAYS”:
Part Five: Coach Kale Ane and the 2019 Punahou Buffanblu