Arnold Martinez knew he was in for a challenge accepting the head football coaching position at Kaiser five weeks before the start of the season.
The scope of that challenge turned out to be much greater.
Martinez ended his first year with the Cougars losing 43-0 to Farrington last Friday in the first round of the OIA Division I playoffs.
Kaiser suited up 25 varsity players for the game and allowed 12 sophomores from the junior varsity team to suit up with no intention of playing them.
In total, just 17 on the original 28-man varsity roster from the beginning of the season played.
“I think you know it’s going to be a challenge for sure, but the magnitude of the challenge sometimes is what’s a little interesting for me,” Martinez said about his first season at Kaiser. “I’m really proud of the competitive fight they’ve had on the field. They didn’t shy away. They tried their best and gave great effort when they were on the field.”
Kaiser finished 2-7 with wins over Division II Roosevelt on opening weekend and Radford in late August.
However, wins and losses took on a different meaning for Martinez during the season.
For instance, it was a challenge just to get enough footballs and cones to run a practice. The numbers were so low that Martinez ran only one full-contact practice per week for the entire season.
In Kaiser’s regular-season finale, the Cougars lost 56-6 to No. 1 Kahuku, but it wasn’t a complete loss.
Kaiser received brand new uniforms for the game, allowing every player to wear the same jersey. Prior to that, Kaiser was using a mix of three different old jerseys just to make sure every player had a number.
Even the facemasks the players wore were different colors. There weren’t enough of the same color for the entire team to wear at one game.
“We were watching the film from last year and it looked like we were watching three different teams,” Martinez said. “One of my assistant coaches is ex-military, and he told me, ‘you know what we call this? This is building a plane while we’re flying it.’ I thought about it halfway through the season and told him that’s exactly how I feel. We got new uniforms. We got the same-colored facemasks. Those are victories.”
The Cougars are still facing a numbers problem in the coming year. After forfeiting games at the junior varsity level in the previous two years under a different coaching staff, Martinez is building from the bottom up with 47 players on the junior varsity team, many with little to no experience.
There are roughly only 10 sophomores ready to make the jump to varsity next season and with a senior class of 16 graduating, that doesn’t leave many left for the varsity level.
On top of that, Kaiser is slated to remain in Division I. Out of the Cougars’ nine games this season, five were played against teams currently ranked in the top eight of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10.
“We have to reevaluate where we’re playing division wise,” Martinez said. “If you ask any coach in the state of Hawaii, would you like to rebuild your program from scratch with 25 players in your first season in Division I, you think anybody is raising their hand and chomping at the bit?
“Everyone would say you’re crazy. That’s not a sound way to build a program and we need to figure that out.”
With the state tournament going to a three-tier trial format this season, some coaches in the OIA are for a three-tier format in conference.
Martinez, who worked with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons since leaving Moanalua, has seen first-hand how even pro teams handle safety. Players practice with extra plastic on their helmets to avoid serious head-to-head contact.
At Clemson, all linemen wear a knee brace.
Kaiser suited up 25 players most of the season with only one player over 250 pounds. Kahuku had 18 kids at least 250 pounds and five over 300 when the two teams played.
Seven days later, the same Kaiser team played a Farrington squad with 12 players more than 250 pounds and four players over 300 pounds.
“It’s a safety concern,” Martinez said. “I think the OIA needs to jump in and figure this all out. If everybody is as all in on safety as they say in Hawaii, then why is it that we play with 25 against rosters of 60,70,80 kids who have been in the weight room for how many months before the season?”
Martinez built Moanalua from a Division II team into a competitive Division I team, but started in the lower division.
This is his first full offseason to reshape the Kaiser program. He’s already reached out to the Pop Warner league in the community and his junior varsity program is stronger. He said he won’t bring up kids to the varsity level just for the numbers, but also has parents asking him if they’ll have to play the same schedule next year as they did this year.
It could determine whether they allow their kids to play football at Kaiser.
Whether or not the OIA decides to changes formats, Martinez said that he’s in it for the long haul at Kaiser and has plenty of support from those around him.
The facilities are also getting an upgrade with work just about to begin on a new field at Kaiser Stadium that should be ready to go next year.
“Although it was a challenging season, there were many positives, and a lot of good people offered great support,” Martinez said. “Many parents, players, coaches, school administrators and folks from the community worked hard to offer positive support for the program and we’re very grateful.”