Kohala coach Chad Atkins said he’d be lucky if he had five players show up to offseason workouts.
Not this year.
The Cowboys’ move from eight-man to 11-man football has not only brought excitement to the campus, it has created a new breed of Kohala football player eager to get to work.
“This year we had 15 to 20 kids on the regular,” Atkins said. “They are starting to buy in and I think this trip really had the kids buy in.”
Kohala, which arrived on Oahu on Tuesday and spent the week visiting different practices — including one at the University of Hawaii, clearly has a lot of work to do to compete in 11-man football after getting shut out by Kalani 35-0 on Saturday night at Kaiser Stadium. However, the experience was about much more than just the final score.
Kohala suited up 27 players for the game and all played. Half of the team is freshmen and there are only five seniors on the roster.
Wake-up time was 5 a.m. this week with practice at 6:30 sharp, with one exception. Atkins didn’t like the way a certain day went and the next morning, his players were out on the practice field by 5:45.
“I had to sit the kids down and say, ‘hey, we’re here to learn and we’re here to get better.’ ” Atkins said. “I wanted to feed them and get them out here to practice. The word is getting out there and these kids bought in.”
Kohala attended a Kaiser practice and a Castle practice and sandwiched a visit in the middle to see Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich and how a college team prepares every day.
Once last season ended and Atkins began to get a sense that 11-man football was indeed a possibility, he immediately went to work.
“I needed to do something so I started really early,” Atkins said. “I want to say I had a bulletproof offseason plan, but had some curveballs along the way, but we make things happen and we make the most out of our reps. It was a positive experience.”
Kohala failed to score against the Falcons but had its moments. Senior linebacker Zyan Caravalho recorded a sack on back-to-back plays and another senior, Justus Ventura, made two fourth-down stops in the second quarter as the Cowboys held Kalani scoreless over the final 13 minutes of the first half.
Freshman Tamatase Sauta had a fourth-down sack to stop a drive and receiver Zak Javillonar won a jump ball for a 19-yard reception to help Kohala drive inside the Kalani 30 before intermission.
“We played every player that we brought up here,” Atkins said. “I didn’t bring them up here to sit on the bench, I brought them up there so they can learn that, ‘hey, this is what I’ve got to work on.’ We go back home and we have work to do.”