SECOND IN A SERIES ON SPRING FOOTBALL PRACTICES ON OAHU
‘Iolani’s football veterans are raring to go. They need to be. They have a lot of work to do and they know it.
This fall, for the first time in 12 years, the Raiders will be eligible for the Division I league and state championships.
On a hot, humid and windless day last Tuesday, the ‘Iolani football team gathered for one of a handful of informal spring drills scheduled.
The talk among some of the key returnees and coach Wendell Look centered on building a strong bond.
Sure, all coaches and teams talk about playing well together and becoming a family, but do the Raiders walk the talk?
If you’re talking about the most recent version of the ‘Iolani football team, the answer is unquestionably yes.
About 10 minutes after winning the Division II state championship last fall, Look said that it had been his easiest coaching job.
Why? The players were so “hungry and embarrassed” from the 2013 season, when the Raiders’ string of six straight state D-II titles ended.
Last season’s seniors took it upon themselves to make the bonds extra strong. It worked and now the new senior class taking over this season has taken up that same kind of leadership role in this all-important season for ‘Iolani.
“As a group we will try and repeat exactly what we did last year as far as getting close as a team,” center Devin Ide said. “It’s super important, getting to know each other. I see it already. We’ve been lifting weights for a month and there are a lot of people out already. Everyone’s pumped up and we’re going to hold each other accountable, not let the team down and push each other to do our best.”
Keoni-Kordell Makekau, a big-play receiver, is excited for the move to Division I.
“It gives us a chance to step up with the big boys,” he said.
Defensive end Christian Naeole, the son of former NFL lineman and current University of Hawaii assistant Chris Naeole, was in his element — at football practice.
“Yes sir,” he said. “I don’t know what else I’d rather be doing than grinding here with my brothers and striving to be the best we can be.”
Naeole can’t wait for the new season.
“We didn’t want to limit ourselves by staying in Division II, not that there’s anything bad about Division II. But now that there’s a new rule where D-I teams won’t be playing against D-II teams in the league, we didn’t want to limit ourselves.”
It is a different new rule that mandated ‘Iolani’s move to the higher level (because they’ve won two D-II league titles in a row), but the Raiders could have appealed it. The ‘Iolani administration considered appealing, and Look left it up to the players, especially the returning seniors, who ultimately made the decision to play in the upper level.
“We were tied with (D-I) Kamehameha 21-21 at halftime last season and just fell in the second half,” ‘Iolani linebacker Melvin Hoomanawanui said. “We can compete and stay with D-I teams. We are confident and we believe in each other.”
Since the state began to classify football in 2003 unitl now, ‘Iolani was in D-II, and the Raiders won a total of eight state crowns. In the Oahu Prep Bowl that started in 1973 and preceded the inaugural state tournament in 1999, ‘Iolani appeared once and tied Waianae 7-7 in 1980.
Look expects to have a roster in the 40s in the fall, and more than 30 were on the field for workouts last Tuesday.
“Some (of those missing) are coming off of track season, some have important schoolwork and some are rehabbing injuries,” the coach said. “It’s the end of the school year and it’s a real busy time. They have performances, dance, orchestra, band, choir, projects and AP tests. They have a lot more to deal with than football.”
The workouts, however, give the ‘Iolani coaches an idea of what personnel they’ve have in the summer and fall.
“Right now, we’re doing real basic stuff,” Look said. “Putting people in the right places. Feeling it out. Fitting the pieces. The kids are choosing where they want to play. We’re not telling them what position to play right now. We’re doing very little football drills right now, compared to evaluating the players and their athleticism.
“The senior group coming back is really good. I enjoy working with them very much. They’re the ones who want to give Division I a go, so we are giving them a lot of responsibility.”
Previously in the series on spring football practices:
>> Kahuku, May 18 practice: http://www.hawaiiprepworld.com/football/first-day-of-practice-like-christmas-for-tata/