GLORY DAYS: Coach Rod York and the 2019 Mililani Trojans

Rod York during his playing days at UH.


This summer, head coaches from all 28 Oahu high school varsity football teams were 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.

Mililani coach Rod York greeted Punahou coach Kale Ane after the D-I state title game in 2013. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

PART 28:


Mom and Dad are at the top of the list in Rod York‘s list of people who had a positive influence on him.

“My dad, Rod Tanu York — he is my first coach,” the current Mililani coach said. “My inspiration. I believe in him. We spent hours in our house, yard and park going over technique and leverage drills. We did one-on-one drills many times like a sparring session for a boxer because if I faced him (in Pop Warner days), then everyone else would be easier. He bought weights so I could lift and work out at home at nights once I got to high school. He took me jogging at Ala Moana Beach, where I ran on the beach or jogged around the entire park. He introduced me to racquetball at Oahu Athletic Club in Ala Moana before there were UFC gyms and 24-Hour Fitness. He made my uncles train me when he couldn’t do it. He took me to all my baseball, basketball and football games and practices and motivated me. He made sure I watched all my uncles’ games when they were in high school at Radford or Campbell High. He gave me lickens to keep me humble, but rewarded me with Sizzler steaks and movies and popcorn when he felt I did good. He showed me how to give rather than receive. He taught me how to care for people in need. He believed in me more than I believed in myself. He is my motivation.”

Misifeleni Safotu Lalau York, his mom, took on a different role in molding the young York.

“She is my heart,” he said. “She always pushed the importance of education to me because she grew up in an era when staying home was more important to care for siblings than attending school. My mom made me attend Punahou summer school every year so that I could get acclimated to private school education and culture. She made me apply for ‘Iolani, Punahou, and Mid-Pac although I wanted to go to Kailua with my friends or Radford, where I watched my uncles play and won a Prep Bowl. She is the reason why I have a master’s degree and work with today’s youth to make an impact on young people. My mom gave me one-to-one talks about how important education is and the doors that it would open for me. My mom talked about my future for high school and college when I was only in elementary. She let me know all her struggles so that it would motivate me to make a better life. A lot of those talks I didn’t understand, but she planted the seed which I give to my kids at Mililani today. My mother loved me unconditionally and always picked me up when I fell down in life. She still does today. Where I go, she goes. She is my inspiration and soul.”

Lots of York’s football mentality was formed in Pop Warner, playing for the Manoa Paniolos.

“Head coach Dwight Uetake, coach Randy, coach Keith Ushijima, coach Mike, coach Gil … these coaches set the tone for my football success in my future,” York said. “I remember running for days in every practice. Our warm-ups were 40 yards and back for everything we did. Every practice was similar to a Daily Ultimate Training UFC class, but for two hours. Then afterward, we would have conditioning that was another half-hour. Many of us played two ways. We did grade checks called goody goody reports. This is where I learned mental toughness that I would carry for the rest of my life. These were the days that when I wanted to quit, I would get lickens from my parents. This is how I learned to never quit, and I still have that mentality today. I was fortunate to play for coach Dwight and my line coach, Keith Ushijima, because that mental toughness they gave me is what we teach our kids here at Mililani today — but with more football teachings and less running. We were always undefeated and champs. We had a special player named Ryan Hoopii, my ‘Iolani classmate, who was our (recent Mililani star running back) Vavae Malepeai. Give the ball to him and he could score at any time, which he did a lot.”

York played intermediate, JV and varsity football at ‘Iolani, and the legendary Eddie Hamada was his varsity coach during his sophomore year.

“In seventh and eighth grade, I knew Coach Hamada because although he was AD and varsity head coach, he would sweep and clean the gym after intermediate basketball games,” York said. “He would drive the JV football team in the old ‘Iolani bus. He was there for late parent meetings when I was in intermediate. His office always looked like a locker room because kids would always flood there during lunch time and recess to hang out. Student-athletes of all sports left their bags in his office during school time. Coach Hamada’s heart was felt throughout the entire school and you always knew that if you had a problem, you could always go see him and he would help. Coach Hamada was always present and involved in all areas, not just varsity sports. I was fortunate to play under Coach Hamada my sophomore year and he would always preach humble and hungry. He was the ultimate player’s coach. I love Coach Hamada. He is always in my heart.

“My junior and senior year, I played for Glenn Young. He had one rule, ‘Do the right thing.’ My teammates who are my great friends today are guys like center Nelson Moku, quarterback Paul Ah Yat, running back Ryan Hoopii, linebacker-defensive end Meki Pei, defensive end Cavan Scanlan, linebacker Matt Tufono, and defensive tackle Chad Mizuta.

“The coaches on the staff were Amosa Amosa (offensive line), Kyle Mosley (wide receivers), Dan Ahuna II (slotbacks), Dan Morrison (offensive coordinator, quarterbacks) and Al Tufono (linebackers). Wendell Look (the current ‘Iolani coach) was my position coach and DC my three years on varsity. Besides coach Dwight and Ush (Ushijima), coaches Wendell Look and Glenn Takara (defensive backs) made the most impact on my mind-set and coaching style that I have now. Coach Look is ‘old school.’ There is no shortcut in life. Hard work and hard work. Go earn it. He was the first coach that showed us how to watch film and tendencies. Coach Look showed us technique and leverage. He taught us how to beat bigger and faster teams. He emphasized offseason training. He was an on-campus coach, so during the school day we spent more time with him then my own parents. He was our uncle that had a philosophy that he is not going to babysit any of the players but we needed to take care of business. Every kid needs to handle their business and make sure they stay out of trouble. Coach Look would always challenge you mentally and it was never good enough. You knew he loved us, but he would never tell us. He showed us tough love.”

York benefited from the knowledge of big-name players who came before him such as Joe Onosai and Al Noga.

“During my high school years, there were no official clinics,” he said. “You would have to train on your own. But Joe Onosai and Al Noga created a group and invited everyone on the island to Cooke Field at UH and we would compete and learn from them. It was free and they donated and gave back to high school kids so we could improve. They were all about the kids. My father took me to Laie to learn from Junior Ah You, who is in the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame. Junior Ah You had his own free sessions on the North Shore with many Kahuku kids who were all-state and all-star players like Tanoai Reed, who was my UH teammate and today’s stunt double for The Rock, Toele Faamoe, Tiloi Maiava and Harland Ah You. Those are some of the names I remember. Every Saturday morning, we would go one-on-one with each other and learn. What I learned from those superstar athletes was to give back to the youth and it wasn’t about money. It was all about the kids and sharing secrets to improve yourself.”

York did not get a D-I scholarship offer after his senior year at ‘Iolani, but he ended up playing D-I for Hawaii. Going to Hawaii games as a kid was a family thing. By family, York means his extended family.

“I’m the kid that got accolades in youth and high school football, but no D-I scholarship,” he said. “That was heart breaking and many Hawaii kids can identify with that today. This is why I have the fire to get our Mililani kids scholarships for them and their families because it will open doors they never knew existed and change their lives. My dream was to play for the University of Hawaii. My father and uncle, Sala Lene (Amosa Amosa’s uncle) took our families, 30 deep, and barbecued and tailgated every home game since I was born. We made so much food. When Amosa Amosa (now an Aiea asssistnat) played for UH, we fed half the team after the game, especially all the mainland kids who didn’t have families here in Hawaii. That was our tradition. We fed all the players and their girlfriends. I would get their autographs and sometimes they would throw the football with me and my cousins. I looked up to all my uncles who played football, but my uncle, Eric Lalau, is the guy I followed because he is the only one who made it to UH. He went to community college while working three jobs and somehow got himself into UH. He walked on. My dad took me to almost every practice I could watch and every scrimmage he had at UH. When he first made the traveling team, it was big news in the family. Eventually he started playing special teams. I remember UH played Yale and they scored lots of TDs. We watched it and loved it because that meant I could see my uncle play on the field because he was on the kickoff team. Once he cracked the starting lineup in 1987, his senior year, at linebacker, he made All-WAC second team. He was my inspiration and paved the path that I wanted to take.”

Former University of Hawaii Rainbow football player Rod York. 1994

The scholarship offer that didn’t come after high school finally arrived from Bob Wagner at UH before York’s sophomore year in college.

“He awarded me a scholarship,” York said about Wagner. “It was one of the best days of my life. I was never a star player in college, but I started my last two years and was fortunate to have great coaches and teammates, including Paul Johnson, Buzzy Preston, Mike Sewalk, George Lumpkin, and Mark Banker.

Among York’s UH teammates were John Hao, Eddie Klaneski, Joe Wong, Tupu Alualu and Gary Graham, Ma’a Tanuvasa and Mika Liilil. Hao (Castle), Klaneski (Damien) and Wong (Kailua) are high school head coaches. Alualu and Graham are Saint Louis assistants. Lumpkin is an assistant at Kalani, Liilii is an assistant Aiea, and Tanuvasa is on York’s staff at Mililani.

“While at UH, I experienced life as a walk-on and although it was tough, it made me the ‘fired up’ guy I am today,” he said. “As a walk-on, you have to pay for your education and dorm. As a scholarship player, the school pays for everything. Everyone knows that, but not everyone knows about the politics and second-nature treatment you have to endure. I’m sure every walk-on player has their own story. But living the walk-on life and the crappy political games coaches play made me mentally tougher than ever. As a walk-on, your mind-set is that you have to be 100 times better than the scholarship guys. My teammates became my brothers for life during those times because they helped us non-scholarship guys to fight through. Scholarship players Kone Salavea, Shane Oliveira and Conrad Paulo let me live in their dorm. I lived with Tupu Alualu, Junior Faavae, Al Aliipule and Jacob Malae in the dorms in my later years. They used to bring me food from the cafe because I ran out of money my parents gave me because I bought food for the boys all the time. My uso (brother), Tupu, helped change my mind-set and taught me to stop feeling sorry for myself and blaming others. He led a bunch of teammates and we would train hard. Our daily schedule started with 9 a.m. lifting at Saint Louis, go to Aunty Suzie Cook‘s house and rest and eat. Lift again at 1 p.m., then 2:30 p.m. basketball in the fieldhouse at Saint Louis. Olin Kreutz and Chris Ma’afala were the younger guys I would see every day at Saint Louis. Then it was field work at 4 p.m. Then Tupu had a van and we would go to Waikiki and run the beach from 7 to 8 p.m. When I returned to UH camp, I was the only guy to make my times for the 16 110s sprints and finished the strongest lineman with a 440 bench press. I was in the best shape of my life. Jason Scanlan and Jacob Malae also helped me train every day.

“All these people I mentioned influenced my coaching style and philosophy that I have today.”


>> 2018 record and finish: 10-3, 5-0 OIA Open; Defeated Farrington 47-7 in OIA Open semifinals; Beat Kahuku 27-7 in OIA Open championship; Defeated Campbell 24-2 in HHSAA Open semifinals; Lost to Saint Louis 38-17 in HHSAA Open final.

>> Head coach Rod York’s staff:
— Rod York (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks)
— Richard Giddeon (quarterbacks)
— Jeff Cadiz (running backs)
— Junior Iosua (slotbacks and wide receivers)
— Tito Sallas (slotbacks and wide receivers)
— Brendyn Agbayani Sr. (slotbacks and wide receivers)
— Eric Stephens (slotbacks and wide receivers)
— Hideki Aoki (offensive line)
— Tim Dunn (offensive line)
— Ace Tuatagaloa (offensive line)
— Matt Muasau (offensive line and defensive line)
— Vince Nihipali (defensive coordinator)
— Kea Cambra (linebackers)
— Ma’a Tanuvasa (linebackers)
— Guyes Galdeira (linebackers)
— Pat Penitani (defensive line)
— Silila Malepeai (defensive line)
— Bruce Scanlan (defensive backs)

>> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: 65 varsity, 50 JV

>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections returning: Shane Kady (second-team DL); Sergio Muasau (third-team OL); Asher Pilanca (third-team Util).

>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections lost to graduation: Dillon Gabriel (first-team QB); Darius Muasau (first-team LB); Ryan Chang (second-team WR); Mykah Tuiolemotu (second-team DL); Reichel Vegas (third-team RET).

>> Players with Division I FBS college offers: Shane Kady, DL, 6-3, 210; Muelu Iosefa, LB, 6-3, 215; Jake Tuatagaloa, OL, 6-2, 305; Wynden Hoohuli, LB, 6-2, 225; Bam Amina, LB, 6-0, 205; Fatuvalu Iosefa, DB, 6-0, 175; Sonny Semeatu, LB, 6-1, 235.

>> All-time state championships: 2 (both D-I — 2014, 2016)

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

>> All-time OIA championships: 4 (all D-I — 2010, 2013, 2014, 2018)

>> 2019 conference: OIA Open

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 Kip Botelho and the 2019 Pac-Five Wolfpack
>> Coach Darren Hernandez and the 2019 Kapolei Hurricanes
>> Coach Joe Wong and the 2019 Kailua Surfriders