Makoa Kupahu, Micah Kaonohi-Kaihenui are ‘difference makers’ for Kamehameha

Kamehameha running back Tanner Moku (7) dove for yardage against Punahou in this 2019 matchup. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

The rigor involved with protocols, practices and now, actual game preparation, is unlike anything in prep football history.

Abu Ma‘afala has dedicated his life to coaching. The sight of his Kamehameha Warriors on the field at Aloha Stadium on Friday night against Punahou can’t come soon enough.

“We are blessed to be playing football. I’m glad that our players, coaches and support staff get an opportunity to participate in a real game and a year and a half. I’ll be relieved after that first kickoff (on Friday),” he said. “I’m blessed, man. I get to make an impact through something I love. Gained a lot of perspective through the pandemic. I’m just thankful that this is how God wants to use me to affect the next generation.”

The Warriors’ field is under renovation, but that hasn’t diminished their energy level. Defensively, Makoa Kupahu and Micah Kaonohi-Kaihenui are pillars in the trenches.

“They are difference makers for us. They do a great job of pushing the defense and giving their best effort whenever they are out there,” said Ma‘afala, who was also a standout defensive lineman at Kamehameha.

Dylan Palama sparks the linebacking group and Evan Rau leads the secondary.

“We have guys that can make plays for us and, best of all, they play together,” Ma‘afala said.

Ma‘afala is pleased with the progress of the offensive line.

“I like our O-line a lot. They are five as one, and they help us to set a tone up front that will help us be successful,” he said.

Running backs Noah Bartley and Michael Mahiai will benefit.

“They are dynamic and remind me of ’Thunder and Lightning’ from USC. Bartley is a slasher like Reggie Bush and Mahiai is that physical, between-the-tackles runner who looks for contact,” Ma‘afala said.

The quarterback position has three talented candidates in Keali‘i Ah Yat, Dwight Apao and Ku Keopuhiwa.

“We are going to need all of them at some point in this season,” Ma‘afala noted. “They are doing a great job of leading the offense and pushing themselves to get better every day.”

The Warriors’ team captains are Apao and Rau.

“There are no easy games. Saint Louis is always stockpiled with players, and Punahou is a well-coached team, as usual. We have to minimize mistakes and capitalize when the opportunity presents itself in order to have a chance every week,” Ma‘afala said. “But I am confident in our team. Everyone has put so much time and effort into preparing even when we didn’t know what was going to happen. The fact that we all were able to minimize distractions and stay on task with the multiple pauses and unknowns signals to me that we are ready.”

The Warriors are grateful.

“I want to thank our coaching staffs at all levels, their significant others and families. The families sacrifice so much to allow their husbands and dads to make a difference in young people. Being a single parent for half a year is not easy, and so I want to personally thank all of them,” Ma‘afala said. “Without that willingness to surrender that time, I wouldn’t be able to run this program. Specifically, I would like to thank my wife and kids. Been dragging them across the country for the past 13 years so I can do what I love, and at their expense. Could not do it without them. I love you guys.”


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