The annual prep football photo tour is underway. Yup, the annual … the annual what?
OK, let me back up a step or two. Every season, football teams put on the gear and endure preseason training. Used to be two- and three-a-days in August. School begins much earlier now, so July is when teams start suiting up and cracking heads.
Go back to 1990 and that’s when I began covering high school sports. It was on the Big Island, a place completely alien to me, but there I was, on the road with our photographer(s). Konawaena, the closest school to our office, was 12 miles away. Hawaii Prep, 40 miles out. Kohala? 58 miles. Honokaa, well, that was 55 miles. And those were the “nearby” schools.
All in all, getting out to preseason camps and getting individual and team photos of all the teams in the area got to be pretty fun. Occasionally, struggling teams didn’t show up. The organized teams were punctual and prepared both for photo shoot/media day as well as the game on the gridiron. In fact, I’m not alone — talk with commercial photographers Burr Cox of Cox Photography or Bryan Simmons of Pictureman of Hawaii — in the belief that a team that is successful at the smaller things like team photos often finds victory easier to come by on the field.
It’s not a guarantee. It’s just what I’ve seen in 20-plus years. One of the most capable of leaders was then-Waiakea coach Tim Lino. He didn’t speak often, but it was enough to keep the ship moving forward at all times. Behind his words were pure conviction and expectation, and the boys followed suit. It was refreshing to see for those of us who drove two-plus hours to meet up with those Warriors. I always appreciated coaches like him, not that he needed any media support. He took a downtrodden program from 2-8 to 4-6, then 6-4 (almost winning a title). That set up a run of four BIIF crowns, establishing a new powerhouse in a league once dominated by Konawaena.
But I digress. Photo tour 2011 began a few days ago with a stop at McKinley, where Joseph Cho is in his second season. After 30 years away from home, he’s still got that glow, the one you get when you return to a place you hold dear to your heart. The Tigers aren’t large in numbers and they aren’t big across the roster, but they have the one thing that gives them a chance to be successful: they’re highly coachable. That’s what I came away with after spending the morning with them next to William McKinley’s statue.
Here are some photos from Thursday morning. Coach Cho has high expectations of his team, and he’s a big fan of his two top linemen: Mackenzie Togafau (55) and Jason Malaga (77). Togafau is 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, one of the former Word of Life players who dispersed to various new schools when the Firebrands program disbanded last year. Malaga is 6-4, 325.
The Tigers lost talent across the line and versatile playmaker Solomon Dixon is heading to the University of Idaho soon. Still, Cho says the team has a multitude of playmakers this season, and new offensive coordinator Pohai Lee (yes, that Pohai Lee, one of the brainchilds of Saint Louis’ run-and-shoot attack) has brought his playbook.
You may have noticed the all-whites that the Tiger will wear this fall. I’m old enough to remember the golden yellow pants with thick black piping, black jersey and black helmets — identical to the Pittsburgh Steelers. More recently, they wore all black top to bottom. But white tops and bottoms?
Coach Cho clearly has his own style. I like the look. The helmets have a profile similar to the Missouri Tigers. The uniforms are almost identical to Georgia Tech. The style is actually (close to?) what they wore at the US Army All-American Game, coach said.
But we both agreed that there might be some sentimental backlash to some degree from old-time Tigers. Cho was a standout linebacker for the black and gold and enjoys tradition, but it was his call to try something new. Even athletic director Neal Takamori — an outstanding Tigers football coach not so long ago — says it’s good to embrace or accept change.
What do you think? Black pants are better? Gold pants?
I think whoever does the laundry will be thankful that the Tigers’ home field (at Roosevelt) is no longer a mud bog. Then again, McKinley opens the regular season at Castle and it rains there a whole lot, so …
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser