Just about a decade has passed since Doug Semones left Hawaii to continue his coaching career on the mainland.
All the while, his devotion to the islands — Kahuku High School, in particular — never drifted far from this thoughts.
Since relocating, Semones coached high school football in Idaho, crossed the country to take a job as an assistant at Yale before crossing back to take over as head coach at Occidental College in California.
Throughout his travels, Semones made sure to keep up to date with the progress of the program that gave him his first head coaching opportunity.
“I’m keeping track of it. I mean, Red Raider for life, man,” Semones said with characteristic verve in a phone interview in advance of Occidental’s game against Pacific University on Saturday at Kamehameha.
“There’s a big Kahuku tattoo on my right shoulder. I see that thing every day. So I always follow the Red Raiders. I love that place.
“We spent a lot of years coaching there and teaching there with my wife (Linda) so that’s part of our life. So I’m always watching out for them and seeing what they’re doing and I was excited last year when they won the state championship.”
Semones returns to Oahu this week to lead Occidental against Pacific University in a game billed as the first NCAA Division III game held in Hawaii. The game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at Kamehameha’s Kunuiakea Stadium.
“It’s great to have an opportunity to coach football in Hawaii again, 18 years of my life and coaching career has been coaching in Hawaii,” Semones said. “I’ve coached a lot of football in Hawaii, been in a lot of big games and had a lot of great experiences so I’m hoping this will be a great experience too.”
Although Semones’ attention has been occupied with preparing for the trip, he’s well aware of Kahuku’s upcoming matchup with Bishop Gorman, the nation’s top-ranked team, on Saturday. The Red Raiders and Gaels will kickoff in Las Vegas about an hour before Occidental and Pacific meet in Kapalama Heights.
“That’s awesome that they’re going to go play those guys,” Semones said. “We won our first OIA championship in a long time (in 1989) and kept building and building and won four of those and Siuaki (Livai) was able to get us over the hump and get a state championship and get ranked. We’ve been working hard to build that program for a long time, now they’re in a position to play a national power, so that’ll be awesome.”
Kahuku went 68-14-2 in Semones’ seven seasons as head coach (1989-95) and ended his run with three straight OIA titles before joining the University of Hawaii coaching staff. The Red Raiders lost to Saint Louis in the Prep Bowl each of his last three seasons, closing his tenure with a 27-26 loss to the Crusaders in 1995.
“That ’95 game still haunts me,” he said.
The opposing quarterback in each of those Prep Bowls was Darnell Arceneaux, now Semones’ offensive coordinator at Occidental.
“He brings it up, no question,” Semones said of the Crusaders’ wins.
He later returned to Kahuku as an assistant coach and was on the sideline for the Red Raiders’ state championship breakthrough in 2000. He also contributed to title runs in 2001 and ’05.
Semones got to work with Arceneaux rather than against for the first time while coaching with the Hawaiian Islanders of arenafootball2. When Semones was hired at Occidental in 2013, Arceneaux — the former Saint Louis and Mililani head coach — reached out about a position on the coaching staff with the Tigers
“I was, ‘Heck yeah I want to hire you. Now how are we going to do this with you in Hawaii?’” Semones said. “We figured it out and it’s worked out.”
Arceneaux served as quarterbacks coach the last two seasons and was promoted to offensive coordinator when Brian Smith left to join Nick Rolovich’s staff at UH.
Occidental (0-1) will bring two local high school products back to Hawaii for Saturday’s game — senior defensive back Chaz Shizumura (Punahou) and junior offensive lineman Max Vinci (Castle).
The Tigers went 5-4 in each of Semones’ first three seasons leading the Division III program with no athletic scholarships. Stringent admission standards and tuition approaching $67,000 per year adds to the challenge of building depth on the roster. But it’s one Semones embraces just as his players juggle the school’s demanding academic standards with football.
“We allow them to balance the academics and the football and have other experiences on campus,” he said. “It’s not Division I, it’s not their job, they’re not on scholarship, but they still grind.
“I have a lot of respect for the guys. I still have the juice. I still have the energy. I get ’em going and we’ve created a really good culture at the school.”