Changing the mentality of a football culture takes conviction.
At Kaimuki, David Tautofi and his staff, which includes young brothers and former college players Darrell and Daniel, the task is a mission. So far, mission accomplished. The Bulldogs are 3-2 in OIA Division II play with three games left on the regular-season schedule. A win over another tough D-II team, Waialua (3-2 in league play) would be a big step toward a playoff berth.
Up front, college prospect Jon-Wendell Nisa (6-foot-3, 272 pounds) has the academics and talent to play at the Division I level, Tautofi said. Another key blocker is Tyler Pologa (6-3, 270). Quarterback Keanu Pratt (six TD passes), like Pologa, can play at the next level, the coach said, though their shot would probably be through the junior college route.
The emergence of 6-2, 215-pound running back Billy Masima has been a major factor in Kaimuki’s two-game win streak. The Bulldogs haven’t had a back that big since Chester Sua, who went on to play linebacker at Washington State. Until the Pearl City game, Masima had played exclusively at defensive end.
“Eighty percent of our linemen play both ways,” Tautofi said. “That’s Kaimuki football.”
Tautofi, a former Bulldog standout who went on to play at UCLA, had been coaching at Calvary Chapel in Las Vegas for eight years, including six as head coach. He was set for a big move to become an defensive coordinator and counselor at East Boston High School. Then came a trip back to the islands.
Tautofi, 34, grew up in Palolo Housing. He was disturbed by what he saw with his own eyes earlier this year.
“I was visiting and it was 9 p.m. I saw pockets of middle-school age kids drinking out in the open with their parents around. My heart stopped,” Tautofi said. “It hit me hard, so I called Raymond Fujino (former Kaimuki athletic director, current OIA executive director) and asked him what’s going on.”
What Tautofi learned is that in his 16 years away from the islands, Kaimuki’s enrollment had shrunk by 50 percent.
“When I was growing up, it was like that saying, it takes a village to raise a child. If someone’s child got out of line, we all were responsible to discipline him. Now, there’s no respect toward adults,” he said. “Coming back, I’m back in my roots. I’m grateful for what I have, trying to give hope to these kids. To me, it’s divine intervention.”
Since being hired at Kaimuki, Tautofi has met the challenges of what, for all intents and purposes, is his mission in life. With the daily hurdles and adversity, it truly has taken a mission-possible mentality for him and his staff. That includes brothers Darrell (defensive line coach) and Daniel (defensive coordinator), who both went on to play in college.
“It’s not about X’s and O’s. It’s about the kids learning to work together instead of getting frustrated with each other,” Tautofi said. “A lot of that was on us coaches. We had to learn to be consistent. It took a lot of shepherding and nourishing the kids.”
Changing a culture doesn’t happen overnight. Not on campus and certainly not off campus. But the Tautofi brothers are trying. They’re hoping to instill fundamental values, which is interesting in more than one way. Back in the 1990s, the brothers were about to enroll at Saint Louis.
“Our parents were set to send us there since I was in sixth grade,” David Tautofi said. “I’m still not sure why they didn’t.”
Saint Louis did just fine without the Tautofis. Kaimuki’s gain was immeasurable. Now they look after hardscrabble kids like Pratt, who struggled academically at McKinley, transferred in the offseason, and continued to have ups and downs until football season rolled in.
“Anu’s made some huge improvements. He understands that his time is limited,” Tautofi said of the senior. “We remind him all the time. He’s a lot more responsible now. My concern is not how he does academically during football season, but afterward.”
Even with momentum on their side, the Bulldogs are hearing the mantra of their coaches about possible complacency.
“Last week’s message was, ‘Do your job.’ This week, it’s ‘Don’t be stagnant. Be passionate’,” Tautofi said, noting that cutting down on penalties is a focal point.
“We have to learn to turn the other cheek,” he added.
Tonight’s game at Kaiser Stadium will be the biggest test for a team that is just getting used to winning.
“Waialua is a good team. They’ve made some big plays against teams we’ve lost to,” Tautofi said. “Our boys are talented and I don’t want to sound overconfident, but if they play the way they should, they should get the win.”