Enjoy it, boys.
This year’s new state championship format gives two more groups of players the chance to play for a state title. For a select few, it will be a footnote on their great football careers. For the overwhelming majority, though, this weekend’s games represent the pinnacle of their high school athletic experience.
Like O.J. Simpson and Ernie Banks on the national stage, the list of greats who never appeared in the big game is even longer.
Here is a highly-subjective list of the best players in Oahu history who never reached a Prep Bowl or state championship.
1. Joe Igber, 1996-1998 ‘Iolani
It is probably fitting that while NFL fans consider Detroit’s Barry Sanders one of the greatest to play without reaching the Super Bowl, Igber tops Oahu’s list. They were very much the same player, with Igber holding the Oahu rushing title until Vavae Malepeai came along and he is still considered by many to be one of the top three backs of all time along with Mark Atuaia and Mosi Tatupu. Tatupu never played in a Prep Bowl, either, but he is not on this list because only his senior year overlapped. Igber came closest to the big game in his junior year when the Raiders went 7-3 but were chewed up by Cal Lee‘s dynasty at Saint Louis. Igber’s ‘Iolani squad was 0-6 against the Crusaders in his career.
2. Adrian Murrell, 1986-88 Leilehua
Murrell was a scourge at running back for the Mules, the closest he came to the Prep Bowl was the agonizing 1988 season when his Mules went undefeated until meeting Kailua in the OIA quarterfinals. Murrell was held to 52 yards that night as the teams played to a 20-20 tie after regulation and left the senior’s fates up the “Cornell Rule,” which gives each team the ball once in overtime and the side that advances the ball furthest is declared the winner. Kailua had seven more yards than Leilehua and Murrell went on to a successful NFL career in which he never reached the Super Bowl.
3. Jerry Leaeno, 1991-93 Campbell
The defensive standout was a three-time OIA all star and defensive player of the year twice but played on a Campbell squad that never had a winning season. He went on to success for a bad Hawaii team but his greatness in high school was confirmed after his senior year when he was inducted into the HHSAA’s Hall of Honor.
4. Kama Bailey, 2005-07 Damien
Bailey was Igber-light, probably the best of a long line of Damien standouts who never sniffed the big game. Like Igber with the Saint Louis dynasty, Bailey’s career overlapped with the beginning of Wendell Look’s Division II dynasty at Iolani. While Igber was never able to beat the Crusaders, Bailey did take down Iolani as a junior with 220 yards in a 14-10 win but tripped up against Pac-Five late in the year. Bailey’s Monarchs won only two ILH games, both against Pac-Five, in his senior year while playing a division I schedule.
5. London Amorin, 2007-09 Pac-Five
Amorin has the distinction of having the most career receiving yards with 2,647 but never showing his skills in a state tournament game because Iolani was at its full powers. That leaves Amorin and his quarterback, P.J. Minaya, on this heartbreaking list but they sure had fun in the games they did play. Amorin ended his career with successive games with more than 200 yards receiving, a rare feat indeed.
6. Shaydon Kehano, 2007-09 Castle
Kehano teamed with quarterback Jaymason Lee and running back Garrett Paredes to form a terrific trio that just couldn’t get over the hump. Still Kehano’s greatness can not be denied, he is one of eight players on Oahu to have more than 2,000 receiving yards in a season. His career overlapped with Amorin’s, leaving two of the greatest receivers of all time shut out of a championship game. Kehano’s best chance of reaching the big dance came in the OIA third place game in his senior year, when the Knights fell to the Governors 42-26 despite a spectacular performance by the receiver.
7. P.J. Minaya, 2008-09 Pac-Five
Minaya is behind Amorin on this list because his performance understandably dipped on the few occasions Amorin was contained as a junior but much of this is semantics. They are the same player. Minaya is top 10 all time in passing yards and held the single-game mark of 511 yards until it was surpassed two years ago. He is now way down to fifth on that list as the OIA becomes more pass happy, but his seven touchdowns in that game against Word of Life is still impressive.
8. Burton Coloma, 1973-75 Waialua
To have a receiver and defensive back from the early 1970s seems a little odd, but Coloma certainly belongs. Coloma still holds the oldest OIA single game record on the books with his 247 receiving yards against Leilehua more than 40 years ago with his brother, Jason, throwing to him with head coach Norm Chow calling the plays. Coloma’s Waialua teams never sniffed the big game, winning only a single league game under Chow and going winless in his senior year with Skippa Diaz as the head coach. Despite the mounting losses, Coloma was an OIA first teamer three times and All-State as a senior.
9. Jarin Morikawa, 2011-12 Mililani
Morikawa threw for 295 yards in the state semifinals as a senior but lost to Punahou in a blowout to rob him of the chance to play on the final week of the season. Still, Morikawa paved the way for McKenzie Milton and he remains one of 12 quarterbacks with more than 6,000 passing yards in a career and is still Mililani’s single season passing leader with 3,583 yards as a senior.
10. VJ Fehoko, 2007-09 Farrington
Fehoko is one of many Governors who could be on this list as the program is annually one of the best but only reached the final once, in 1990. But Fehoko is the choice because of how agonizingly close he came. His Governors lost a state semifinal game to Kahuku 9-6 in overtime while helping hold Vilami Pasi to 68 yards. The three-time OIA all-star was also on the field for a semifinal loss to Punahou as a junior and a loss to Baldwin in the first round as a sophomore. he was named to the All-State first team twice.
With apologies to Samson Anguay and the hundred others who were left off, feel free to put your nominations in the comments.