New Kahuku football coach Vavae Tata has an unmistakably deep voice, a nice fit for a leader of young men.
Almost as soon as he got to the school’s campus after being hired late last month, Tata began developing the boys he recently inherited from outgoing Red Raiders coach Lee Leslie.
And we’re not talking about on the field. With Tata, academics come first. During a 15-minute phone conversation on Wednesday, whatever topic came up, it nearly always circled back to what’s the most important thing on Tata’s agenda: schoolwork.
“Academics is vital,” he said. “Sometimes it’s overlooked by coaches, when it’s actually the most important piece. Football has an expiration date. It’s really all about what comes after and what you do with your education.”
After school for a few hours every day at study hall, Tata has been working with the Kahuku football players.
“We can’t afford to have players academically ineligible in the fall, and so we’re working on it now. We’re making strides, but still have a long way to go. We want them to finish this fourth quarter strong.”
Tata is finalizing his staff and plans to announce it before the start of spring football practice.
For Kahuku football fans wondering if there will be changes to the Red Raiders style, the new coach gave an indication of what type of offense and defense he’ll be running.
“We will be a mini Stanford,” he said. “Everything Stanford does on offense and defense is what we’ll be doing. That will be our DNA and our branding.”
Simply put, the Cardinal are a power football team on offense, with an attacking, old-school defense. So, it’s a good bet that even with a bit of a makeover, old-fashioned Kahuku football — the hard-nosed brand that has always been there — won’t be disappearing.
One thing Tata would like to do in the long-term is establish synergy between the JV and varsity teams. The idea came from his days as a Saint Louis School defensive end under coach Cal Lee.
“There wasn’t any drop off when the JV players came up to varsity,” Tata said about the Crusaders teams he remembers. “The varsity and JV had the same system and the same language and the same type of coaching, and there was so much continuity. The JV teams won championships and the varsity teams won championships. Cal surrounded himself with a great staff and created a winning program.”
Tata, who was a standout defensive end for UCLA in the 1990s, spoke highly about some of the college coaches who have been influential in his life. He feels fortunate to have been on the staffs at San Jose State under Mike MacIntyre, Stanford under David Shaw and Vanderbilt under Derek Mason. He calls them “great leaders of men.”
Tata is expected to have many outstanding returnees from last season’s 9-3 Red Raiders team that made it to the state semifinals, including defensive backs Keala Santiago and Hirkley Latu and running back Kesi Ah-Hoy.
“I’m blessed. I get to do what I’m passionate about, coach football,” said Tata, who grew up in Palolo and Kalihi. “I get to reach out and show them that there’s a huge world out there and that they can make it.
“If someone from Mayor Wright housing, Building 29-A, can make it, why can’t you?”