FOURTH IN A SERIES ON SPRING FOOTBALL PRACTICES ON OAHU
From the top of the heap in November to the first few spring practices of a new season in May can be be a scary time for any coach.
Rod York is experiencing it and going with the flow in his own unique style.
One thing he won’t settle for is “average,” when his Mililani Trojans take the field for a practice or a game.
He was singing that song during a spring practice session on Tuesday.
“You practice to be great. You don’t practice to be average,” he reminded his players more than once.
Great — as in last season, when the Trojans finally broke through and won their first state championship with a 53-45 victory over Punahou at Aloha Stadium.
Great again in 2015? Not if Mililani doesn’t pay attention to small details. That’s one of the things York is huge on: If you can’t do the small things, then you’ll never do the big things.
Near the end of Tuesday’s practice, York also hummed his tune about taking care of the small stuff. It won’t be the last time he has to remind his players.
No doubt, Mililani has lots of returnees in the right places to make a strong defense of that title, though. The Trojans will have plenty of competition. Punahou and Saint Louis also return tons of talent and there are always rumblings out of the OIA from teams such as Kahuku, Farrington, Leilehua and Kaiser.
Andru Tovi has taken over a big leadership role on the offensive line that lost two big cogs — Jordan Agasiva and Derick Fetui-Suapaia — to graduation.
It will take a while for the chemistry to develop, but a bunch of capable backups, including Marcus Mafi, Kyle Chinen, Tyler Santos, Jarred Dela Cruz and Noah Williams, are working on transitioning into starters.
The Trojans have three obvious returning threats in quarterback McKenzie Milton, running back Vavae Malepeai and wide receiver Kalakaua Timoteo. They tore up the offensive charts last season and are likely to do so again in York’s offensive strategy that is based on taking what the defense gives.
“Everybody loves to be out at this time of year, the first days of workouts,” Malepeai said. “We can only go up from here (the first practice), having fun and getting better with the right mind-set and a great attitude and, like coach says, taking care of the little things.”
After Tuesday’s practice, Milton talked about the progress the team is making and, hopefully for the Trojans, the progress to come.
“Systematically, we’re the same,” he said. “We’ve attacked this offseason with a hungry attitude. We’ve got new faces on the offensive line, but when all is said and done, we’ll be OK there.”
Milton has been working with the new guys on spacing before the snap and putting people in the right spots.
If there is anything Milton would like to get better at, it’s his footwork while passing.
“Sometimes, I have lazy feet,” he said. “And it’s a mental thing where I will throw it off-balance instead of trying to get more drive on the ball.”
Last we looked, Milton’s occasional lazy feet didn’t get him in trouble. He threw for 3,339 yards and 35 TDs as a junior.
Milton appears to be a bit bigger physically this season and is starting to look more like the proverbial “big man on campus” than the wiry kid he was — especially two years ago as a sophomore, when he threw for 1,620 yards and 16 TDs.
Defensive end Kaimana Padello said defense got the better of the offense on Tuesday, which is rare this early.
“I think they had a hard time adjusting to the helmets (which were being worn for the first time),” Padello said. “Their tempo wasn’t as high as it normally is. We had a lot of talent last year and we’ve got a lot this year, too, but we need more work on making it a brotherhood like last year. We need to gel. Be more of a team than individuals.”
Padello is a quick pass rusher who now has more of a leadership role as a senior. The Trojans will be working to fill the defensive holes left by the graduation of stars Rex Manu on the line and Ty Apana-Purcell in the backfield.
“We’ll be filling the holes,” coach York said. “We lost a lot of players, and it’s time to coach the next guy up. It’s a brand-new team, and it’s a good bunch that wants to succeed. We’re hungry. My job is to pull all the players together.”
Tovi knows the rest of the state will be out to catch Mililani.
“We’re the target,” he said. “And that’s how we like it. It gives us the fire.”
Previously in the series on spring football practices —
PART 1 >> Kahuku, May 18 practice: http://www.hawaiiprepworld.com/football/first-day-of-practice-like-christmas-for-tata/
PART 2 >> ‘Iolani, May 19 practice: http://www.hawaiiprepworld.com/football/iolani-football-team-cranked-up-for-d-i/
PART 3 >> Punahou, May 22 practice: http://www.hawaiiprepworld.com/football/punahous-primary-football-pieces-still-in-place/