Everywhere they go, home and away games, they ride the bus.
That hasn’t stopped the Kaimuki Bulldogs from emerging as a stronger team each season under Coach David Tautofi. They made an immediate impression to the rest of the OIA Division II universe with a 63-0 shellacking of a decimated Waialua squad on Saturday night at Edward Skippa Diaz Stadium. Even with just 25 players in uniform, Kaimuki was in hurry-up mode in the first half and dictated the tempo.
“Most of these boys play a lot bigger than they are and that’s the mantra of our team. We’re 25 strong but it feels like we have 50,” said Tautofi, who added that nine more players will return soon.
It wasn’t just quarterback Jordan Solomon, who was consistently one step ahead of the Waialua defense all night. It wasn’t just bulldozing running back Ieke Seei-Cleveland (5-9, 210), whose superior field vision, patience and cutback ability enhance his deceptive explosiveness.
Kaimuki’s offensive line was on point from start to finish, never letting up against the defending OIA D-II champions. That made life in the pistol pocket much better for Solomon, who passed for 199 yards and four TDs while completing 73 percent of his passes (11 for 15). Seei-Cleveland, who rumbled for 165 yards and two TDs on 15 carries, also hauled in a screen pass for a 46-yard score.
“I feel like we did our job well. We practiced how we played. We did good enough to win,” Tautofi said. “There’s just a lot of room to get better. If there’s one thing, it’s just the fruits of their labor. They finally got a taste of what success could be like for them after all this time and work, to trust in the system. This is our third season and it’s been two years in making. Our seniors are leaders and holding the team together and giving each other something to play for.”
Kaimuki’s offense generated 292 rushing yards and finished with 491 total yards.
“For us, myself especially, it’s a treat to see the whole offensive unit click as a whole. Ieke was at the camps during the summer at UH, working hard in the summer. I believe he’s one of the best running backs in D-I or D-II. He’s hungry,” said Tautofi, a Kaimuki graduate who played at UCLA. “The line is just as hungry, they got the physique and size and athleticism and heart. Those combined together are unstoppable and phenomenal when they’re on their game. It’s like the old-school days when the offensive line leads the offense. Ieke follows their lead.”
That bruising line has D-I size: left tackle Evangelist Paama (6-4, 343, Jr.), left guard Chesney Ludwig (5-7, 280, Sr.), center Daniel Tautofi Jr. (5-8, 200, So.), right guard Suliveti Nisa (6-2, 322, Sr.) and right tackle Hunter Mulu (6-0, 223, Jr.).
The path is made clear not just through the trenches with straight-ahead tactics, but with the mobility required to go to the edge with authority.
“We’ve been working this summer on becoming a team that can play smashmouth, but run around outside, too. Going into the half, we wanted to get everyone involved. Ieke easily could’ve had more than 15 carries. Even as a receiver, he’s scary,” Tautofi said.
Naomas Asuega-Fualaau (5-9, 154) added 61 yards on eight carries, showing speed on the perimeter and some power inside.
“Naomas, he’s only a sophomore. Last year, we saw his potential. He resembles Billy Masima when he was a freshman and sophomore. Billy was a great athlete. Naomas more of a true running back than Billy was,” Tautofi said.
Kaimuki’s defense limited Waialua to 10 yards of total offense. Kaulana Kaluna Jr. was one of several ironmen — 21 of of the 25, in fact — who played and excelled on both sides of the football.
“They finish the play, pick each other up and get back. Not being chippy, and nothing can slow us down. We wanted to take away all their options and put everything on their quarterback (Tevesi Toia) and 71 (Matthan Hatchie),” Tautofi said. “We’re far from where we used to be and we’re so far from where we want to be. It’s going to take an entire season. It’s the speed of the game. They’re able to get right back on the line and keep going.”
Monday will be rest day. Video day. Conditioning day.
“Defensively, we’re still trying to figure out what kind of defense we have. We’re lucky because there’s a lot of combinations we have. The only thing working against us is numbers,” said Tautofi, a former defensive lineman. “Our strength is our line. We probably blitzed less than five times last night where last year we’d blitz 20 or 30 times a game.”
Their strength is also a team-wide willingness to do more.
“Polo (Solomon) was begging me, ‘Let me play defense. Let me go on special teams.’ Pound for pound he is the best athlete on the team,” Tautofi said. “The bus ride (to Kaimuki) was quiet and when we got back, they said, ‘Coach, we can play another game.’ We’re looking forward to playing Kalani. We have to make sure we’re sharp.”