When Kahuku’s Mana Fonoimoana-Vaomu lined up behind center and took the team’s first snaps at quarterback against Kamehameha, it wasn’t a gimmick.
Fonoimoana-Vaomu was primarily a safety as a sophomore and junior. He still lined up in the secondary against the Warriors and also held punting responsibilities for the Red Raiders.
But quarterback was also on the list of duties for the 5-foot-10, 182-pound senior, who completed his only pass attempt for four yards and rushed eight times for 52 yards and a touchdown in a 21-13 win over No. 6 Kamehameha at Carlton E. Weimer Field.
“During the offseason, that’s when I started rotating in at quarterback,” he said. “Just wanted to start off with a bang. If we told people and word got around, they would expect more running packages. We just wanted to come out and win this game.”
Kahuku ended up needing all the contributions it could get from Fonoimoana-Vaomu, who also recorded a tackle and caught the game-sealing interception to preserve the win.
“To be honest, I’m sore,” he said. “It was a long night but hey, we pulled it off. I’d do anything to help the team out.”
Fonoimoana-Vaomu’s playmaking skills were evident as a sophomore during a memorable 45-yard takeaway for a touchdown in the 2017 OIA championship game, a 35-31 win for the Red Raiders over Mililani. His junior season was cut short due to knee and ankle injuries that caused him to miss the latter half of the season.
Coach Sterling Carvalho was asked about Kahuku’s quarterback competition at the start of the team’s fall camp. At the time, it was between senior Robbie Sauvao and sophomores Jason Mariteragi and Tiger Adolpho.
Sauvao was the only one of the three to have starting experience last year. He is no longer listed on the Kahuku roster after relocating to California around a week ago in what Carvalho calls a “family decision.”
“I always told the players and their parents that I would never get in the middle of what you decide as a family,” Carvalho said. “These are family decisions, we’re just here as coaches to support whatever decisions families make.”
Even if Fonoimoana-Vaomu had never played quarterback in an official game before Saturday night, Carvalho made it clear he wants the ball in his hands.
“He’s an athlete. We can put him anywhere,” Carvalho said. “We could’ve put him at quarterback, running back, receiver, safety, corner. He’s like our Kawe Johnson. Our jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. An athlete deserves to be on the field.”
The Red Raiders were in control for the vast majority of the game, opening up a 21-0 lead after Fonoimoana-Vaomu’s 7-yard rushing score with 4:23 left in the third quarter.
Kamehameha clawed back into the game with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Warriors burned all their timeouts by the time Kahuku got the ball back with 3:09 left. Fonoimoana-Vaomu ran the ball for 31 yards but fumbled it at the end of the run, giving Kamehameha another chance to tie the game.
“It comes with having an athlete,” Carvalho said. “You can’t fault a kid for trying to make plays, especially Mana. He wants the ball. He wants to make plays.”
Fonoimoana-Vaomu picked off Kiai Keone on fourth-and-long before the Red Raiders took one last knee to end the game.
“I felt relieved,” he said. “Coming up with that long run and fumbling at the end, I wasn’t expecting it, but the interception at the end relieved all the stress.”
The Kahuku defense was led by linebacker Kana Fonoimoana-Vaomu, whose six tackles, three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks were all team highs. Brothers Mana and Kana are seniors, despite Mana being a year older. Both are committed to play for Navy next fall.
Before both head off to Annapolis, expect Mana to see more time at quarterback, even though Adolpho and Mariteragi both got reps against Kamehameha as well. Carvalho said he’d still put the ball in Mana’s hands even if Sauvao had never departed.
“We still would use Mana,” he said. “Why not? He’s something special.”