Kaimuki senior guard Daniel Moefu-Tautofi was walking with a cane and wearing street clothes Wednesday at practice on the school field.
He was all smiles. The senior and his teammates are getting another chance in the Division II semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
The Bulldogs (10-2) are out to avenge a 20-12 loss a year ago. That happened at Vidinha Stadium in Lihue and it came at the hands of the Kapaa Warriors. Those Warriors (7-1), who are the KIF champions, stand in the way of Kaimuki again. And the Saturday, 2 p.m. matchup is again at Vidinha Stadium.
Through the years, that’s the site where teams from non-Garden Island places typically have been shown the door off island as losers in the early rounds of states. It makes for a long and sullen flight home.
“Last year, we were pretty confident going in,” Moefu-Tautofi said. “We had too much confidence. This year, it’s a different feeling. It’s not just confidence, but it’s more trust in my teammates. Lately, everybody has been eager to play. With three weeks off, we want to play someone already. We’ve been clicking and everyone is running around, excited to play this game. This is do or die. We want to win so that we can do something (the following week in the D-II final) the school has never done before.”
Moefu-Tautofi will play, despite having rolled his ankle Tuesday in practice. Doing his job while hurt is old hat. He pulled a hamstring in practice the week of the OIA championship game and still played in a 27-24 victory over Roosevelt on Oct. 26 at Aloha Stadium.
“I’m playing no matter what,” he said, before an assistant coach with a cast on his leg riding a scooter came by to take his cane back from Moefu-Tautofi. “I’m trying to get as close to 100 percent as possible.”
Quarterback Jayden Maiava (2.992 yards and 37 TDs passing, 238 yards, five TDs rushing) and receiver Koby Moananu (1,050 yards and 19 TDs receiving) were asked about Kaimuki’s second chance against the Warriors.
“Practice is going great, we’re coming together, jelling together,” Moananu said. “The quarterback (Maiava) is on point throwing the ball. The defense is on point. I feel like last year going into this game, we were kind of tensing up. We’re more loose and we feel more confident. It was difficult for us last year — fly in, play and fly out. We were new to that. We’re more prepared. The game plan is good and we hope to come out with the win.”
Added Maiava: “I’m excited for sure. It will be a good experience for the boys to play together and bond together. Practice was flowing good today.”
The fact that Kaimuki is in states for a second year in a row is a testament to how serious the players are in wanting to be successful.
“We’ve been all playing together since middle school,” Moefu-Tautofi said. “Before, it was a dream. All talk about playing together and doing big things. Now it’s real. I want to take the last ride with my boys and go out with a bang.”
Naomus Asuega-Fualaau (1,299 yards, 14 TDs rushing) is another offensive weapon the Bulldogs will be relying on.
Coach David Tautofi feels as though last year’s state tourney appearance on Kaiumki’s resume is a big plus.
“We’ve been there before,” he said. “There are a lot of things we don’t need to stress out about or overthink.”
Of the 31 Bulldogs at practice Wednesday, 21 will suit up for the game against Kapaa. Of the other 10, two were brought up from the JV team for practices. The eight others are either injured or going through academic issues.
“Kapaa is a good team,” Tautofi said. “They’re riding on a good wave of energy and support from their community. They’ve proven they’ve been good. Since I moved back to the island five years ago, they’ve been a perennial powerhouse in Division II.
“The boys know who they’re going up against. It shows in our practice with the effort that I’m seeing and how sharp they move. It shows their maturity.”