THIRD 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 EDDIE KLANESKI AND THE 2019 DAMIEN MONARCHS
Eddie Klaneski has always been the little engine that could. His story of walking on at the University of Hawaii and eventually earning All-Western Athletic Conference honors twice as a safety is one that’s been told before.
But what motivated him? What motivates him now?
Klaneski offered some insight.
“I wasn’t big,” he said. “I wasn’t fast and I wasn’t really strong. I trained to become bigger, faster and stronger. I regret some things I didn’t do. But I had the work ethic and the training and I was a student of the game. In the summer during the UH days, it was train, run, lift, go home eat, sleep and come back in the afternoon and do it again. I didn’t go out. I was focused on football and it earned me that position. I was dedicated and I was also fortunate that I had support and didn’t have to go and get a job. My parents, my family helped me get through that time. A lot of kids don’t have that luxury.
“I also was not caring what people thought. When I practiced, I tried really hard and people hated me if I made them look bad. I wanted to win every rep. They would say, ‘Why are you trying so hard in practice?’ I practice how I play. I love football. I love practice. I love to study. That’s what pushed me forward, not thinking about how you gotta let this guy go. I try to teach kids that now — that you don’t take plays off and you don’t take reps off.”
Klaneski played many of the skill positions in Pop Warner — tight end, running back, defensive back and receiver. In high school at Damien, he also played multiple places, cornerback and safety, receiver, running back and slot.
At UH, he walked on as a defensive back, but switched to slotback early under coach Bob Wagner. He began to make waves as a scout-team player, making plays on kick returns and punt returns, and he eventually earned a scholarship as a slot.
But the move to defense, in retrospect, was the right one.
By the time he was a senior, Klaneski had a hard time switching the motor off when the coaches wanted him to relax in order to stay away from injury.
“As a senior, I was taking every rep, but they started limiting me on reps, saying I didn’t need to prove myself,” he said. “I don’t like being on the sidelines. That was the hardest thing — learning that I didn’t need to prove myself anymore and slow down a bit.
“I still try to instill in the kids that if they’re shy, they’re never going to get it. If they wait for everybody else to go, they might never get a chance. Don’t be a guy in the back. People might get mad if you cut in front of them, but you want to be the guy that gets seen.”
Klaneski will never forget UH’s 23-22 loss to Notre Dame at Aloha Stadium in 1997.
“That was my senior year and we lost by a field goal at the end,” he said. “We had a great game. I had some punt returns (of 36 and 51 yards), made a bunch of tackles and big plays. It was great to be part of that. Some of the Notre Dame players came up and said, ‘Hey No. 21, you killed us.’ That kind of deal. That was one of my proudest moments. Growing up, watching college football, that was the team I watched, my favorite team.”
In Pop Warner starting at age 11, Klaneski played for West Waipahu. His coach at the time became the Damien JV coach and that’s how he ended up there.
“Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Damien,” he added.
Klaneski went on to play arena football in Winnipeg, with the San Jose SaberCats, and for the Hawaiian Islanders. A torn ACL and his friendship with Darnell Arceneaux, the Islanders’ and former Saint Louis and University of Utah quarterback, turned into his first coaching job.
“A bunch of us, including Darnell’s brother Anthony, and other friends went with Darnell when he got the Saint Louis job (in 2003),” he said.
Klaneski still remembers the hurt of losing that 2003 state title game, 27-26, to Kahuku.
A late punt return led to Kahuku’s go-ahead touchdown, but the Crusaders still had a chance for a field goal to win it.
“C.J. Santiago missed the two field goals,” he said. “He was roughed on the first one (of 55 yards) and they moved it up, and he was roughed on the second one (40 yards) and just missed but they didn’t call a penalty. What people don’t know is that college goal posts used at the stadium are six feet shorter (18-6, instead of the high school recommended 24-6). I don’t think they adjust it at the stadium now and I don’t think they did it 16 years ago. His kick sailed right next to the goal post.”
At Saint Louis, Klaneski soaked in some important knowledge.
“I learned a lot about the culture,” he said. “It’s a different culture, the way their mentality is and their parents. It’s a different animal. It’s still strong with Cal Lee being back there. There’s expectations and the reality of football. We try to change the culture at Damien and we’ve done a lot, but you can’t compare to a school like Saint Louis. I don’t think anybody can, maybe Kahuku and maybe Mililani.”
Klaneski got a teaching job at Damien in 2004 and he’s been a coach there since. This season will be his ninth as the head coach after seven as an assistant.
A big highlight as a coach for Klaneski was when the Monarchs beat ‘Iolani 42-35 in overtime and then made it to the state tournament in 2017.
“We were down 21-0 after the first three series,” he said. “We finally beat ‘Iolani. There was a point in time that there was a lull at Damien, almost an expectation to lose games. The No. 1 thing was to change that mind-set. Now the expectation is to win games, to be successful and that what you put in, you are going to get out.”
A 30-19 loss to ‘Iolani last year kept the Monarchs out of the postseason.
“We have key returnees with experience at certain positions on both sides of the ball,” Klaneski said. “I’m really looking forward to those people being leaders on the field. I’m optimistic that we can be competitive again.
“I’m not saying it was a disappointing year last season. It wasn’t what we envisioned. We competed and played well and had a winning season. We didn’t make it to the state tournament, but it was still positive. We beat Waipahu (13-10), the eventual (D-I) state champion. It’s something the kids can look back to and say, ‘At least we beat those guys.’ Our thing is to focus on winning the game in front of us. At the end of the year, our goal is to reach the state tournament or win the state championship. If that wasn’t the goal, we would otherwise be selling the kids short. We want our guys to get better every day at practice and prepare for the grind of the season this year.”
2019 DAMIEN MONARCHS AT A GLANCE
>> 2018 record and finish: 5-4 (5-3 ILH Division I); did not qualify for postseason
>> Head coach Eddie Klaneski’s staff:
— Eddie Klaneski (defensive coordinator)
— Brian Ah Yat (offensive coordinator, quarterbacks)
— Houston Clemente (offensive line)
— Elijah Clemente (offensive line)
— Abe Kamanao (linebackers, special teams)
— Jason Kauanui (defensive line)
— Lefa Lauti (running backs, quarterbacks)
— Makou Meyer (defensive backs)
— Austin Pang-Kee (defensive backs, strength and conditioning)
— Tonga Takai (defensive line)
— David Tuiasosopo (linebackers)
— Anthony Tuitele (wide receivers, special teams)
>> Approximate varsity and intermediate numbers: 50 varsity, 45 intermediate
>> Among 2019 key returnees: Jake Holtz, Sr., QB, 6-4, 215; Jarvis Natividad, Sr., WR, 5-8, 170; Kaysen Makuka-Kaawa, Jr., OL, 6-2, 275; Duke Hoohuli, Jr., LB/QB, 5-10, 180; Amo Sulu, Jr., LB/RB, 5-10, 185.
>> All-time state championships: None
>> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships: None
>> All-time ILH championships: 4 (all in D-II, 2003, 2015, 2016, 2017)
>> 2019 conference: ILH D-I
COMING NEXT IN “GLORY DAYS”:
Part Four: Coach Kale Ane and the 2019 Punahou Buffanblu
Previously in the series:
>> Coach Darren Johnson and the 2019 Campbell Sabers
>> Coach John Hao and the 2019 Castle Knights
Theses Monarchs should make some noise this year. A good number of returnees were starters last season. Coming into the season with a lot of valuable experience may help them get back to states.