GLORY DAYS: Coach Kili Watson and the 2019 Nanakuli Golden Hawks

Kili Watson began his prep football career as a quarterback at Nanakuli. Photo courtesy Kili Watson.


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.

In four years of high school football, Kili Watson added 4 inches and 50 pounds to become a 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end for Kamehameha. Photo courtesy Kili Watson.

PART 10:


Once, Kili Watson was a 6-foot, 180-pound freshman quarterback for Nanakuli. By the time he graduated high school, he was a 6-4, 230-pound tight end for Kamehameha.

Before that, Watson was a defensive end for the Maili Warriors in youth football before going to Kamehameha and playing intermediate football there. He turned back to defensive end and added the tight end position as a sophomore JV player while back at Nanakuli.

“They needed anybody to play quarterback because our team was even smaller than it is now,” Watson said about his freshman JV season.

The height he eventually got to was inherited. His dad is 6-2 and his mom is 5-11. Brother Keala (the former University of Hawaii standout and former Nanakuli head coach) is 6-3. Another brother, Keahi, is 6-2.

Without question, among one of Watson’s top high school moments came in 2009 as a part of the Division I state championship Kamehameha squad.

“The biggest mark left on me was from (then-Kamehameha) coach David Stant,” he said. “He was such an energetic guy. He had a different coaching style. Coach Skip (Lopes) at Nanakuli was a little more relaxed. David was very energetic. Funny story, he went to celebrate after a touchdown and went up for a high five and ended up getting knocked down on his back and he was celebrating on his back. I think that was the state championship game. It was definitely my time at Kamehameha. It was definitely a brotherhood and we had chemistry that we built off the field. It was tight knit and we carried that on to the field.”

Watson had an offer to play at West Liberty and was also asked to be a preferred walk-on at UCLA. But he ended up not playing football in college.

A few years ago, Watson dabbled in an 8-man league on Oahu while attending UH West Oahu.

But coaching came calling after high school and that’s what kept him in the game.

“Right when I graduated (from Kamehameha), Keala took over the Nanakuli JV program,” Watson said. “He was trying to build his coaching staff and all kinds of guys were telling him that I could come out and help. He was like, ‘Only come when you can.’ He wanted to push me to college, but I went right into coaching. This year is going to be my ninth year and third as the head coach.”

During his time as an assistant, he was an offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2016 until he took over for Keala as head coach for the 2017 season.

Back when he switched from defensive end to tight end, it was not a hard transition.

“It’s basically the same spot on the line of scrimmage, so you’re flipping over on the line of scrimmage,” Watson said. “Having been a defensive end, I had an idea of what was going to be coming at me. I picked it up and countered it and used it to my advantage as a tight end.”

Kili Watson lined up out wide as a tight end during the 2009 D-I state football tournament semifinals against Leilehua. Photo courtesy Kili Watson.

At Kamehameha, Watson said it was 50-50 whether he was in a three-point stance blocking or in a trips formation running routes.

“I’ve grown to be an offensive person,” he said. “That’s what I love about the game. My goal is growing their IQ on the offense.”

Trouble, Watson said, was not far away if he had not found football.

“Honestly, I got into a lot of trouble, so I was glad to find a sport where you can hit somebody and not get busted for it,” he said. “That was then. There are new rules now. What? I can hit this guy? I loved it. I stuck at football since then, whether playing or coaching.”

He got a great boost from brother Keala on his coaching path.

“Keala shaped 95 percent of my coaching style and philosophy,” Watson said. “He’s a wise person. He always thinks before he acts. He’s very humble. I was a knucklehead kid, a bad kid. He took me in, my big brother, and guided me and took me on that path. His leadership style is all about consistency and fairness and humility. Football is everything in our community. You’re either a hero or a villain, but you’ve gotta learn to be humble whatever it’s going to be.”

The Golden Hawks are moving down to Division II after some rough years in D-I.

One thing Watson is doing differently this year is planning practices more carefully to avoid player burnout.

“We started a little later with offseason training,” he said. “we waited until the middle of April. Playing at the D-I level and playing more games due to the merger, we found ourselves burning out too early. The vision and the goal this year is for longevity. With low numbers, we’ve gotta condition them to play four quarters but make sure they play all of the games. Normally we start training around spring break in March.”

The outlook for 2019 is positive.

“We definitely didn’t finish where we wanted to last year,” Watson said. “We didn’t win a game. We took away lessons we learned from competing against higher caliber teams. We can pull a lot of lessons from that, do it correctly and apply it to the Division II level. Record wise it was a loss. But the program still achieved goals. The boys didn’t quit. We kept the same numbers throughout the season, and we are instilling character, making sure their academics is in good standing, and making sure that the seniors are in ready position for society.

“I think we have a good formula and we can always get better. This year, for sure, the approach is for longevity and making sure we can last nine games. Our players, the way they’re raised, they’ve got the attitude that they want to compete. Taking in the logistics of everything, our roster size and player attributes, we’re at a disadvantage at the Division I level. Right now, we belong in D-II, but we have an Open Division competitiveness and attitude. We’re returning to D-II and it’s a whole new ballgame. It’s not where it was when we left. Kaimuki has emerged as a contender, Roosevelt is on the rise, Pearl City is always good, Kalaheo is doing good, and Waialua won the OIA a couple of years ago. It’s really, really competitive.”

Nanakuli’s Gavin Vea-Flint returns as the Golden Hawks’ top receiver from a season ago. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.


>> 2018 record and finish: 0-10 (0-7 OIA Division I)

>> Head coach Kili Watson’s staff:
— Edmound Ybarra (offensive coordinator)
— Nick Griffin (defensive coordinator)
— Curtis Wright (quarterbacks)
— Trevis Kapua (running backs)
— Bleys Wright (wide receivers)
— Keahi Watson (offensive line)
— Jamar Aleka (offensive line)
— Jimmy Afamasaga (defensive backs)
— Devin Takahashi (defensive line)
— Keala Watson (defensive line)

>> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: 25 varsity, 25 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 returnees: Lafaele Matautia, Sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 250; Duece Yin, Sr., LB, 6-2, 180; Gavin Vea-Flint, Sr., WR, 6-2, 180; Sedric Crawford, Sr., LB/QB, 5-11, 170; Randy McCabe, Sr., LB, 6-0, 160.

>> All-time state championships: None

>> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships: None

>> All-time OIA championships: 2 (1983, D-I; 2014, D-II)

>> 2019 conference: OIA Division II



Part 11: Coach Tim Seaman and the 2019 Kaiser Cougars


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


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