Cameron Higgins is the first to admit he didn’t quite know what he was in for when he accepted the head coaching job at Kaiser.
Just 26 years old, Higgins was handed the tough task of trying to follow up Rich Miano‘s two-year run as Cougars head coach, which included 20 wins, an OIA White title and a Division II state title.
A long summer ended on Friday night at Kaiser Stadium when Higgins led his Cougars onto the field for the first time as the head guy in charge.. It worked out well as Kaiser smashed Aiea 52-7 to win its first OIA Red game since 2011.
“The preparation to get to this point was long and hard, but once you see that 52-7 (on the scoreboard), it was all worth it,” Higgins said. “I might be in a little over my head but I’m ambitious. Our entire coaching staff is ambitious and energetic.”
Any worries that Kaiser wouldn’t be able to handle its new status as a Division I football team went out the window quickly as the Cougars dominated both sides of the ball against Na Alii.
Junior Jensen McDaniel rushed for 162 yards and four touchdowns in his varsity debut and quarterback Kalawai’a Judd, a transfer from Kauai, went 16-for-30 for 160 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in a Kaiser uniform.
What stood out the most, and what will likely give Kaiser its best chance at success when it plays the Kahuku’s and Waianae’s of the world, is a punishing front seven on defense, led by ultra-talented junior Parker Higgins and senior defensive linemen Zeno Choi and Manase Palu.
Palu had four tackles for loss and a sack and Choi had two sacks and a fumble recovery. Higgins had seven tackles and was all over the field batting down balls and chasing down players from behind.
Higgins said every defensive coach on his staff played Division I college football.
“The knowledge that they are passing down to these kids day in and day out is awesome to see,” said Higgins, who played quarterback at Weber State. “They give (the offensive coaches) problems during the week.”
Kaiser hosts No. 8 Waianae in a big early-season test next week. If the Cougars can somehow get past the Seariders, winnable games against Waipahu and McKinley follow before the big home showdown Sept. 19 against Kahuku.
Kaiser 52, Aiea 7
At Kaiser Stadium
Aiea (0-1, 0-1) 0 7 0 0 — 7
Kaiser (1-0, 1-0) 21 14 7 10 — 52
Kais—Destin Moss 20 pass from Kalawai‘a Judd (Matt Sai kick)
Kais—Jensen McDaniel 70 run (Sai kick)
Kais—McDaniel 2 run (Sai kick)
Kais—McDaniel 1 run (Sai kick)
Kais—Nicolas Tom 48 interception return (Sai kick)
Aiea—Pokahu Kealoha-Cambe 19 pass from Kodi Ongory-Mathias (Micah Peters-Valdez kick)
Kais—McDaniel 1 run (Sai kick)
Kais—FG Sai 28
Kais—Moss 18 pass from from Judd (Sai kick)
RUSHING—Aiea: Ongory-Mathias 14-43, Ferenisi Lualemana 2-14, team 1-(minus 5), Kobe Kato 8-(minus 21). Kais: McDaniel 24-162, Judd 10-86, Keith Jones II 4-8.
PASSING—Aiea: Kato 12-32-1-68, Ongory-Mathias 1-1-0-19. Kais: Judd 16-30-0-160.
RECEIVING—Aiea: Cory Walton 4-18, Kealoha-Cambe 2-25, Lincoln Tappe 2-13, Jarod Alama 2-4, Austin Hartbarger 2-(minus 2), Ongory-Mathias 1-29. Kais: Justin Ikei 7-29, Moss 5-95, McDaniel 3-29, Andrew Kaufusi 1-7.