27th 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.
COACH JOE WONG AND THE 2019 KAILUA SURFRIDERS
Joe “Hauoli” Wong didn’t play Pop Warner football, so he “bought time” playing soccer, baseball and basketball.
It was a bargain. Wong went on a fantastic football journey that started in intermediate school at Saint Louis and continues as the head coach of the Kailua Surfriders.
“I was an offensive lineman from the get-go,” Wong said. “I tried tight end for a little when I first got to Kailua (as a freshman). I played both offensive and defensive lines in high school. I guess it’s in my blood to be in the trenches.”
In college, he was strictly on offense, but he used the things he learned on the defensive side in high school.
“My mentality on offense was to always be the attacker and never let the defense dictate to me,” he said. “I played offense as a defensive type, aggressive with my hands. Going both ways in high school helps you at the next level. It gives you a knack for knowing what the guys on the other side are thinking. I’ve heard stories about (Dallas Cowboys great) Mark Tuinei starting as a defensive lineman and finishing up as an offensive lineman.”
When Wong was a sophomore tackle at Kailua, he teamed up with senior guard Marcus Malepeai to form the right side of the offensive line. Those two also became the right-side tandem years later at the University of Hawaii — once again when Wong was a sophomore.
“When does that happen when you go from being a starting tandem in high school and then at the collegiate level?” Wong said. “I cherish that a lot. That was pretty neat, looking back on it.”
Kihei Cosier and Kevin Pagan were also a part of the O-line at Kailua in those high school days.
“Pagan is my brother, basically,” Wong said. “He’s been with me (on staff) as the offensive line coach since I became the head coach (in 2014). We were a pretty good-sized line, averaging 6-2 across the board. It was one of the most monstrous lines I’ve ever been a part of in size and weight.”
Lanakilia Dudoit and Henson Thomas were the fortunate beneficiaries as the Surfriders running backs.
“Our coach was Alex Kane,” Wong said. “That guy made such an impact on my life a a man, as a coach and as a player. As players, we owe a lot to him. We always called him ‘The Man’ — ‘Coach’ or ‘The Man.’ ”
Wong’s biggest moment as a high school player came his sophomore year when Kailua met Waianae for the OIA championship in 1991.
“I’ve seen some of the games now on TV when Kahuku plays Saint Louis, but by far, when we came out of the tunnel for that game, it was one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at Aloha Stadium,” he said. “I don’t know where all those people came from. They must have come out of the woodwork. One side was navy blue and black. The other side was white. I had to catch my breath. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Kailua and Waianae had been slugging it out since way back when. In 1987, Kailua lost to Waianae on the last play and this was the rematch. We lost (27-6). They beat us. That was a really good team. Glenn Freitas was the Waianae quarterback, Angus Thompson was a linebacker and one of the greats that came out of Waianae, Evile Puna was a defensive end, one of the Tafiti brothers was a running back, and Lawton Mawae was one of their linemen. There were a lot of all-staters on those two teams.”
Wong played at the University of Hawaii before transferring to BYU. Some of his teammates at UH were defensive linemen Rod York (now the Mililani head coach), David Tuifua and George Noga, linebacker Dan Katoa and offensive linemen Kendall Goo, Kelly McGill and Shane Oliveira.
“Shane is my first cousin,” Wong said. “He was a teammate of mine growing up. That was a memorable and special time I had at UH.”
After his time at UH, Wong transferred to BYU, playing for Lavell Edwards.
“In my two years starting there, five of us on the offensive line all got drafted — Eric Batemen, John Tate, Matt Johnson, Jason Anderson and myself,” he said.
In 1999, Wong was taken by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round.
“I was drafted by Jimmy Johnson and played for him and then Dave Wannstedt, but Oakland is where I played the later part of my career.
“Here I am in the huddle with Dan Marino calling plays,” Wong said. “(Fifteen years) earlier, I’m a kid watching him play the 49ers in the Super Bowl. That was pretty cool. He’s telling me: ‘Don’t (bleeping) let them touch me, man. I’m thinking, ‘This is crazy right now. How many people have experienced this?’
“I had a stint in Philadelphia with Andy Reid before I went off to Oakland with Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan and Norv Turner.
“Those guys made a big impact on the NFL and on my playing and coaching career,” Wong said. “I learned from them as a player and I’ve used what they taught me in how I go about coaching today in high school.”
Wong cherishes the memories of playing with Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown and quarterback Rich Gannon in Oakland and Hall of Famer Jason Taylor in Miami, among many others.
“I went against Jason Taylor and (Oakland’s) Trace Armstrong on a daily basis. Warren Sapp, Ted Washington, immovable objects, I played against those guys on a daily basis. I was always a backup and on special teams, but being there day in and day out, I learned a lot from those guys.”
Wong played in the Super Bowl, a 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in January 2003.
“That was the biggest thing in my NFL career,” he said. “Some people never get to one. We got the AFC championship ring and we didn’t get the big one. Still, it means a lot to me. It’s an accomplishment.”
For Wong, it’s thrilling to watch his son, Elias Wong, who is playing on the offensive line at UH.
“That’s where it all (college football) started for me,” coach Wong said. “Even though I didn’t finish there, I’m always a Hawaii fan. It’s a real honor for me.”
Elias Wong was 5-11 when he played under his dad at Kailua before graduating in 2017, but is now 6-3. He redshirted a year ago and is a freshman in terms of eligibility this year.
“He grew a lot and is doing his thing over there,” Joe Wong said. “The starter is a senior and he is a solid backup for them. Hopefully, he gets (playing) time. I’ve been training him super hard. He has stepped up his game.”
Wong looks at last year as an off year for the Surfriders.
“It was definitely not up to my standards,” he said. “We had a great team defensively, but offensively we couldn’t get it into the end zone. We struggled in quarterback play. Even if you have a good running back, you have to have someone who can at least keep the defense honest, to nickel and dime them to get them out of the box.”
Cameron Friel, a junior transfer from Saint Louis, is the starter at QB this year.
“He’s offensively sound and pays attention to detail,” Wong said. “He takes what the defense gives him. His whole family played for me at Kailua. He was our ballboy before he went to Saint Louis. He has a history in the program. He’s back home where he’s going to be most utilized.”
Expect another tough Kailua defensive unit.
“We want to be balanced on offense and play lights out on defense,” the coach said. “We’ve been doing that since I became head coach, except for the first year. And since then, we’ve been consistent on both sides of the ball except for last year on offense, when we would get in the red zone and could not punch it in.
“Our number one goal is always to win the division,” he said. “If you don’t want to reach for that, you’re selling the team short and you’re in the wrong sport. Nobody is going to go out there and bust their butt without wanting to be a champion.”
2019 KAILUA SURFRIDERS AT A GLANCE
>> 2018 record and finish: 2-8 (2-5 OIA Division I)
>> Head coach Joe Wong’s staff:
— Joe Wong (head coach and defensive line)
— Shane Mitsui (offensive coordinator)
— Chris Jose (defensive coordinator)
— Andrew Blue (receivers)
— Kevin Pagan (offensive line)
— Vic Tolentino (running backs)
— Paul Serikawa (defensive backs)
— Jarrett Machado (linebackers)
>> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: 44 varsity, 40 JV
>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections returning: None
>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections lost to graduation: None
>> Players with Division I FBS college offers: None
>> Among 2019 key players: Cameron Friel, Jr., QB, 6-3, 210; Tevita Tongotea, Jr., DL, 6-2, 260; Kamryn Kahoonei, Sr., WR, 6-0, 195; Samson Rasay, Sr., Slot, 5-9, 195; Elijah Laufili, So., LB, 6-2, 220
>> All-time state championships: None
>> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships: None
>> All-time OIA championships: 4 (all D-I, *including 1 co-championship — 1963, 1964, 1965, *2001)
>> 2019 conference: OIA Division I
COMING NEXT IN “GLORY DAYS”:
Part 28: Coach Rod York and the 2019 Mililani Trojans
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
>> Coach Abu Maafala and the 2019 Kamehameha Warriors
>> Coach Wendell Look and the 2019 ‘Iolani Raiders
>> Coach Robin Kami and the 2019 Pearl City Chargers
>> Coach Fred Salanoa and the 2019 Radford Rams
>> Coach Kui Kahooilihala and the 2019 Roosevelt Rough Riders
>> Coach Cal Lee and the 2019 Saint Louis Crusaders
>> Coach Darrell Poole and the 2019 Kalaheo Mustangs
>> Coach Darren Hernandez and the 2019 Kapolei Hurricanes