It’s Novemeber and the Damien football team is practicing on campus.
Yes sir, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division II champion Monarchs (6-1) — who are usually done their season in October — are in the postseason for the first time in what seems like a lifetime to the players. They were preschoolers and toddlers in 2003, the last time Damien tasted a state-tournament appearance.
The players are reveling in the experience.
“Everyone is super excited,” junior linebacker Shawn Borges said during practice on Wednesday in preparation for the D-II state tournament first-round game on Saturday night at Konawaena (10-1) on the Big Island. “Because of the (postseason) drought, the whole school is getting behind us and it feels so good to be part of this team. With that support, it’s so much easier to go out and battle and try to make our coaches and school proud.”
Damien will fly into Kailua-Kona on Saturday morning and return on Sunday.
If they win, Borges said, kiddingly, that “We’ll have an excuse to be loud on the plane and in the hotel.”
Win or lose, Borges won’t change his opinion about this team.
“I will always remember us as being small and scrappy,” Borges, who is 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds, said. “We don’t have size, but we have heart and know how to fight.”
Borges is a prime example of that type of heart. He blocked three field goals and had an interception in Damien’s 28-16 win over Pac-Five in the Monarchs’ regular-season final.
For Monarchs coach Eddie Klaneski, what can be the toughest part of being the head man has suddenly become easy.
“Here we are in game week, and it’s almost as if they (the players) have turned a different switch on,” Klaneski said. “They’ve prepared so well and the fruits of their labor are coming out right now. We as coaches don’t need to motivate them at all. The motivation of playing in the state tournament is enough. The last two weeks has been high energy. Real high.
“We’ve seen Konawaena a bunch on film. Their personnel is similar to ours. I see similar stature and a similar style. Like us, they’re fast and aggressive on defense. On offense, they come out of the spread and we’re more of a running team.”
Klaneski has noticed that his team is a lot more healthier so late in the season than in past years, and said there are a lot of reasons for it:
>> Many bye weeks
>> Not playing against bigger ILH Division I competition (the league’s D-I teams played against D-II teams in the regular season until 2014)
>> More days off, when the players needed to recharge
>> Much more commitment to weight training
Overall, Klaneski has noticed more of a commitment from the players.
“The compliance of the kids is unreal,” he said. “If you ask for this or ask for that, they get it done.”
Klaneski is proud of his special teams in all areas and pointed out that punter Cody Labanon and the punt-coverage team has come up big all season.
Starting center Rush Asing has been an unsung hero for the Monarchs, according to the coach.
“He’s the leader of our blocking schemes and he’s been injury free,” Klaneski said. “He’s the quickest off the ball and is in tune with the quarterbacks and the snap count.”
The snap count is something that Klaneksi is also very high on. It’s what Klaneski calls an “untraditional” system based on voice, timing and inflection. Sometimes the play starts on the first sound out of quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina‘s mouth — on “set” or on “down.” And there are other ways the unusual and complicated system works to confuse the defense.
“We’ve probably gotten 10 to 12 first downs on offsides called against the opponents,” the coach said.
The winner of Saturday’s game meets second-seeded Radford in the semifinals on Nov. 14 at Roosevelt’s Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium.