(Full preview of football teams in the OIA Red West.)
Life in Wahiawa is a different tone, shade, taste, flavor.
However the most loyal Leilehua Mules football fan perceives it, Life After Manley has begun.
The “Man Child,” Andrew Manley, is now quarterback at New Mexico State after 2 1/2 years of miraculous comebacks and magical, momentum-changing works of, well, art. Just about every time he and the Mules were backed into a corner, fans on both sides of the stadium expected something breathtaking out of the gunner. More often than not, it was a comeback win by Leilehua.
Now, though, the Mules are in transition and the West has a distinctly different look and feel this fall. Can Leilehua return to the state final? Nothing is impossible with Nolan Tokuda and his staff in charge. But the rest of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West can smell blood, and the chase is officially on.
There isn’t a weak link in the chain. Even Nolan Tokuda looks at Mililani as the top dog.
“The road goes through them. They’re definitely loaded now,” the Leilehua coach said. “Two years ago, we won the JV title, but our only loss was to Mililani, and they didn’t have Trent (McKinney) then.”
Leilehua foes can bank on one thing: the excitement may come from the defensive side of the ball. A deep unit of versatile athletes gives defensive coordinator Mark Kurisu plenty of ingredients in his kitchen.
“I see it at practice. Coach Mark draws it up for me after and it’s still tough,” Mules coach Nolan Tokuda said. “Eleven guys within seven yards of the snap. Our defense is what I really feel good about.”
Here’s a look at the division.
OIA Red West
Coach: Wendell Say
Last year: 9-4 (7-3 OIA White)
On paper: Freddy Taliulu returns at quarterback for a run-and-shoot offense that doesn’t often ring up gaudy stats, but is highly effective thanks to Taliulu’s gritty leadership and smarts. Running backs Otto-Titan Salausa and Anae Vaa are rugged ballcarriers.
Vaa is also seeing action at wide receiver.
“He’s like (former Campbell slotback) Samson Anguay with more size,” Tokuda said.
Center Tuafale Faatoafe and left guard Zachery Mauga are entrenched and young; both are juniors.
Ilalio Sio, a senior nose guard, keys the defensive line, which includes defensive end Max Maafala-Maiava.
Aiea got a helping hand when Taylor Taliulu, Freddy’s cousin, transferred in from Kamehameha. Taliulu, Kainoa Raguindin and Chucky Kaahanui man a solid secondary.
Skinny: The move up from Division II will test Na Alii’s staying power. With a roster of 66 players, they should have enough depth to stay with powerhouses like Leilehua, Mililani and Waianae.
X factor: Two years ago, Aiea lost offensive coordinator Amosa Amosa, who took over at his alma mater, Campbell. This season, OC and quarterbacks coach Bobby George moved over to Mililani. Can Aiea withstand those losses?
Coach: Amosa Amosa
Last year: 3-6 (2-5 OIA Red)
On paper: The year got off to a rough start when quarterback Maika Ulufale transferred to Radford, leaving Amosa without his returning starter at the steering wheel of the run-and-shoot offense. Justin Tago (12-for-26, 84 yards) and Nilo Agbayani-Omalza (1-for-5, 4 yards) combined for a touchdown pass and four picks in last week’s 26-7 nonconference loss to Farrington.
Skinny: The Sabers will miss playmakers like Samson Anguay (Hawaii), but have a history of developing productive athletes.
X factor: Amosa’s history as an offensive coordinator (Aiea) before arriving at Campbell is lined with superb players. But it all comes down to timing and precision in the run-and-shoot.
Coach: Darren Hernandez
Last year: 5-4 (4-3 OIA Red)
On paper: Running back Keaka Fernandez bolted for 253 yards in two scrimmages against Red East squads.
The strength of the squad may be on defense, where Toali‘i Scanlan, a 6-1, 240-pound senior, patrols at outside linebacker and defensive end. Seth Roman (6-0, 190) is a key to the unit at safety.
The offensive line is led by center Manuia Ioane (5-10, 265) and left guard Samson Kaleikini (6-5, 270).
Skinny: The pieces are there, but putting it all together will take time for the Hurricanes and their intricate spread option offense. Last week’s 14-7 nonconference loss to Pearl City was telling enough. With new quarterbacks (Troy Kamachi, Keaka Napuelua-Ah Yee), patience is required as they learn the nuances under recently-returned offensive coordinator Michael Carter.
X factor: If there’s a time to lose, particularly when it’s an upset, it would be early rather than late. Last week’s loss could serve as a wake-up call for the Hurricanes. This weekend’s matchup with Punahou — where Hernandez’s son Zachary plays — should be interesting.
Coach: Nolan Tokuda
Last year: 9-4 (7-2 OIA Red)
On paper: Before Manley, even before Bryant Moniz (now starting at UH), Leilehua played bone-crunching defense. The new-look defense will allow some hybrid looks and maximize the athleticism of several players.
The defensive front of Melei Penitito (6-1, 200), Tuaato Matai (6-0, 235), Isaako Laun John (5-9, 220) and two-way starter Ezek Kupa Suivaaia (6-3, 280) is all new to starting, but has great promise.
Austin Schmidt (5-11, 210), Darric Matsumiya (6-0, 190) and Alakai Belisario (5-11, 190) are part of the linebacking group that can switch into coverage in an instant.
DaQuan Wyatt (6-0, 165) and Derek Cunningham (5-9, 160) could see a lot of one-on-one scenarios as the rest of the defense tries to create chaos.
Safety Ryan Pasoquen (6-1, 170) is key to the attack.
“This guy’s a Division I safety,” Tokuda said. “He’s like (former Punahou safety) Brian Suite with great hands and good closing speed. He’s a missile.”
Dillon Pauu (5-11, 170) brings experience to the other safety spot, while junior Russell Siavii (6-2, 190), brother of former All-State linebacker Robert Siavii, will be a special weapon of Kurisu.
The offense is much more conservative now, using the wildly popular Wildcat/flex option set with a fly/jet man in motion. Jordan Kalaau and Kenan Sadanaga are battling for the starting quarterback job.
Rey Ramos (5-8, 215) leads a backfield by committee. Ramos is the best blocker, Tokuda said.
Skinny: The Mules are banking on defense and offensive line play. Three starters are back on the O-line — left tackle Kalawaia Jenkins (6-1, 230), right guard Matt Van Winkle (6-3, 270) and right tackle Keane Hosaka (6-0, 220). Their performance is key for the development of the two new quarterbacks.
X factor: Fred Padrones had a big postseason after returning from injury. The wide receiver, who is also an All-State third-team punter, is one of three returning starters among the pass catchers.
Coach: Rod York, first year
Last year: 7-3 (5-3 OIA Red)
On paper: Besides the 1,872 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, or even the 347 total yards in a close playoff loss at Kahuku, Trent McKinney did something unusual last season. In 243 pass attempts, he tossed only six interceptions. Among passers who reached the state tourney last year, none had a rating higher than McKinney (145.3).
He has returning starter Hassan Richardson (6-4, 190) and newcomer Ervan Jean-Pierre (6-4, 190) to scan down field, and he’ll have time. York has made it a priority to give the senior slinger maximum protection, which is why most of the team’s biggest blockers have switched to O-line if they hadn’t been there already.
The multiple sets left behind by Darnell Arceneaux, now at his alma mater, Saint Louis, are still in play. McKinney’s effectiveness as a runner won’t be stifled, but he’ll hand the ball off out of the shotgun and pistol formations more rather than run wild.
Center Chase Yamada (5-6, 307) steers the front five, which also includes Cameron Lalau (6-2, 327).
Safety Elijah Lagafuaina (6-0, 185) suffered an injury in last week’s 34-6 win over Kaimuki.
Skinny: York, a former defensive lineman at UH, has been on that side of the ball as an assistant coach for years. However, he’s not afraid to let go of the leash a bit and let his offense take charge. That could mean some high-scoring games at John Kauinana Stadium.
X factor: Zachary Payomo and Darius Calma have stepped up as key ballcarriers. Payomo (5-7, 169) rushed for 92 yards (7.7 per carry) and a touchdown against Kaimuki, while Calma (5-2, 129) had 64 yards (7.1 per). As a result, McKinney ran just three times (12.3 yards per attempt) — which will keep York and his offensive line happy.
Coach: Fred Salanoa
Last year: 6-4 (6-3 OIA White)
On paper: The Rams return to Division I with some size, good talent and a steep learning curve. Senior Maika Ulufale moved with his family from Ewa (Campbell) and finds himself a pupil of quarterback guru Fred Salanoa. While Ulufale adjusts, the Rams have a murderer’s row of foes in the Red West.
“Campbell runs more of a vertical game,” Salanoa said. “We do more of a West Coast.”
Ulufale has capable playmakers in Tevita Baravilala (5-10, 175), T.J. Reid (5-10, 175), Dorsey Norris (6-1, 190) and Troy Evans (6-3, 205). Andrew Togiailua, a 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back, will also see time at tight end and running back.
Defensively, middle linebacker Cy Salanoa (6-1, 205) and outside ‘backer Krix Hugley (6-0, 195) are in the mix.
Skinny: If Ulufale needs time to find his footing, the ground game will carry the load. Phil Hogan is a tough runner (17 carries, 83 yards against Castle), though Togiailua emerged with the most attempts (19 for 32 yards).
X factor: A one-dimensional offense can work if it is perfect, but that’s the exception. When Radford can balance its offense, even just a little, good things will happen.
Coach: Danny Matsumoto
Last year: 5-4 (5-2)
On paper: Quarterback Puletua Wilson (6-1, 185) is a dangerous scrambler with a strong arm, but he doesn’t have a go-to weapon like Keoni Napierala-Rose (graduated) this time around.
Running back James Wilson (5-10, 160) and wide receiver Hookena Kamana (6-0, 155) could develop into trustworthy playmakers. Kanekapila Hussey, Bryson Panui and Jaylen Mitchell could all figure prominently in Waianae’s patented Wing-T attack.
Sophomore defensive tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii (6-1, 300) could fill in for powerful Eleu Wilson, who graduated. Defensive ends Peter Ulu-Fano, Joshua Vallesteros-Garcia and Kaeo Alana will rotate.
The linebacking crew includes senior Chavez Kauwalu (5-8, 195).
Skinny: As long as they can run the ball, the Seariders will be formidable between the tackles. The passing game isn’t as evolved just yet, but Wilson is an exciting playmaker who will find a way to succeed.
X factor: The offensive line, Matsumoto said, has no single standout, but is playing very well as a unit.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser