A lot of attention went to the Kaiser football team a year ago, and deservedly so. The Cougars won the Division II state title, after all.
It’s kind of a foggy memory now, but a neighbor-island team came close to upsetting them in the final game, and that fact gets kind of lost in the media hubbub that swirled around Kaiser throughout the 2013 season and beyond.
Yes, Kauai High was locked into a 7-7 tie with the Cougars to start the fourth quarter and a couple of key late plays made the difference.
So, here we are in 2014 and the season openers are a few days away. Both Kaiser and Kauai are sitting just outside the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Preseason Top 10.
Do they deserve to be there? Time will tell.
The Cougars have a new coach in Cameron Higgins. Gone is head coach Rich Miano and strength coach Chad Ikei. There were rumors of recruiting and/or questionable transfers (which is and has been common all across the state) and unconfirmed conflicts of interest with Ikei’s strength and conditioning business being used to train the public school players.
Even Higgins noted earlier this season that part of his job is to try to keep players from running off elsewhere.
The Cougars open Friday at home against Aiea and will get a taste of what they wanted all along — a Division I schedule.
But what about Kauai High? Well, it seems like some key players are packing up and leaving for different (and maybe brighter) pastures.
Kalawaia Judd, who played defense, wide receiver and punter a year ago, told Red Raiders coach Tommy Cox that he is leaving to play for Kaiser. Previously, two Kauai guards, Clint Matias and Nate Hrbig, opted to join the Saint Louis Crusaders, the No. 3 team in the Star-Advertiser poll.
Cox is also dealing with a host of players who are academically ineligible for Saturday’s opener at Konawaena.
“That was a special squad,” Cox said of the team that stood in there against Kaiser in the state final. “This year is completely different. We lost some key guys.”
There are certainly some key returnees, including outside linebacker Kelii Efhan, who packs a wallop and uses his gifted quickness with his undersized frame.
Sophomore Aaron Renaud, who spent his freshman year at Saint Louis, is the starting quarterback, replacing Judd.
Cox said he’s not at all worried about team defense and puts full trust in his coaches on that side of the ball. And he thinks the line will be more mobile than a year ago, when they opened some eyes with their size.
“We’ll see,” Cox said. “It’s going to be rough. We should be OK if we can get past Kona.”