Physical Kahuku team faces ultimate test

Kahuku's defense swarmed Waianae running back Rico Rosario earlier this year. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.
Kahuku’s defense swarmed Waianae running back Rico Rosario earlier this year. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

Close your eyes for a few seconds.

Take yourself back to the 1970s. Maybe even the ’60s. Your TV? You’re lucky to have basic cable. USA Network is still a few years away from its NBA contract. Michael Jordan has yet to drop 63 points on the Boston Celtics during the playoffs.

No, it’s the ’70s. High school football in Hawaii is still about the Prep Bowl. Larry Ginoza and the wing-T at Waianae. Cal Chai and the sky-blue accented uniforms of Kamehameha. Saint Louis is about to go on a magical ride with new coach Cal Lee at the end of the decade.

You reach for the TV remote… no, wait. There’s no such thing. You stand up and walk to your TV, adjust the antenna, manually click your way to a different station. There’s no high school football. There’s no high school anything. Maybe some games on the radio.

Football in this era is perfect for radio. There’s not a whole lot to describe from a schematic point of view. The 3-4 defense was exotic. Just about everyone played a 4-3, sometimes a 5-2, and when necessary, a 5-3. A nickel could get you an ice cake or chik-o-stick at the mom-and-pop corner store. There were rarely nickels on the gridiron.

Football was about the trenches. Who would dominate at the point of contact? It wasn’t about spreading the field and creating more space. It was about you, me and who would still be standing by the final 3 minutes. Who would deal the most punishment. Who could take the most and come back stronger.

Today’s Kahuku Red Raiders are not just a throwback team. The essence of who they are, from head coach Vavae Tata, to his assistants, to the mentality of all 11 players on the field glued together to make legal destruction of an opponent happen on every single snap is pure hand-to-hand combat on a football field.

When the Red Raiders take the field against Bishop Gorman on Saturday, it will be more than a game between Hawaii’s best team and the entire nation’s No. 1 program. It will be about the inheritance of an entire community from Kahuku to Laie to Hauula to Kaaawa, showing the country what fans in the islands have seen for decades.

It will be about smashmouth football.

It has worked for Tata, who coached at Stanford and Vanderbilt, who could run any system he wanted at Carlton Weimer Field every day and night. But rather than venture deeply to adopt the latest trends, he merely files them away. The four-wide? Only when necessary. The read option? Occasionally.

He came back to Kahuku last year, saw his starting quarterback go down with an injury early, and decided that anything else but a jumbo formation featuring nine to 10 blockers at 200-plus pounds each would be less advantageous. Pummeling. Successful. A 13-0 season revealed the truth about Kahuku and the immense pride of the community, but it also cemented the notion that the team in red doesn’t need to recruit nationwide, as Bishop Gorman does, and it doesn’t need the latest evolutionary schemes to out-think opponents.

It needs girth, power and aggression to get those 3.4 or more yards on every snap. Can this be done against a team like Bishop Gorman? To be fair, the Gaels are the point where it doesn’t recruit in the traditional sense. Players come to them. Haskell Garrett is one of them.

As a middle-schooler at Saint Louis, back when Matt Wright was the varsity head coach, Garrett was a man-child. On the basketball court, unstoppable. Long, strong and quick. By ninth grade, he was playing JV football for the Crusaders, lining up on defense to tear up offenses, but on offense, he was sometimes in the slot, catching passes and juking much smaller defenders on his way to the end zone.

Soon enough, he was gone. Garrett, who is committed to Ohio State, never took a snap for the Saint Louis varsity, just as Lee and his staff returned to revive the legacy of Crusaders football. Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, a former Mililani player, and former ‘Iolani offensive lineman Jacob Isaia, also moved from Oahu to play for the Gaels.

Bishop Gorman has a roster full of Garretts. A Catholic school in Las Vegas, former coach Tony Sanchez now leads the program at UNLV. His younger brother, Kenny, is in his second year as head coach. For the past few years, some Hawaii-raised players have trickled into the program. The team has grown to be such a powerhouse loaded with in- and out-of-state talent that many schools in Nevada expressed issues with competing against what is essentially an all-star team. Snoop Dog’s son transferred there from Long Beach Poly — an elite program in its own right — a few years back.

After a recent 44-14 road win over then No. 5-ranked Cedar Hill (Texas), the president of the Texas High School Coaches Association, David Wetzel, criticized Bishop Gorman in a letter. Wetzel is also head coach at Reagan High School in San Antonio.

“You’ll notice those complaints are not coming from (Cedar Hill) coach (Joey) McGuire.

I’m glad we got to play that game,” Gaels coach Kenny Sanchez told USA Today. “I think he should spend more time teaching his kids to overcome adversity than make excuses for adversity.”

The Gaels committed 11 first-half penalties last weekend to get past No. 3 St. John Bosco (Calif.) in Long Beach. Tate Martell, a commit to Ohio State, passed for 183 yards and three TDs, and ran for 113 yards and another six points. They took a 21-20 lead on a scoring run by Martell in the third quarter.

Martell, according to some analysts, is the best quarterback in the nation. Kahuku has not faced a QB like him since last year’s HHSAA state championship game, when Saint Louis’ Tua Tagovailoa — rated by other recruiting experts as better than Martell — was on the other side. Tagovailoa passed for 191 yards and finished with minus-1 yard rushing as Kahuku won 39-14.

Bishop Gorman, though, is loaded with prospects up and down its roster, players heading to elite conferences. Kahuku is no slouch, talent-wise. Between TE/DE Aliki Vimahi, CB Kekaula Kaniho, OL Sekope Lutu Latu, DE Samson Reed, OL Izaya Vimahi, LB Miki Ah You, OL Enokk Vimahi, LB Kesi Ah-Hoy and QB Sol-Jay Maiava, the Red Raiders have at least 32 scholarship offers and counting.

Ever since the matchup was announced in January, there’s been a buzz in the islands. Kahuku’s small allotment of tickets was sold out almost instantly. Even with a modestly more diversified offense, Kahuku has mostly shunned the forward pass again this season. Averaging 46.4 points per game allowing just 22 points while going 5-0, Tata’s version of prep football is practically immaculate. He is 18-0 as head coach.

“We’re excited,” Ah-Hoy told Christian Shimabuku of Hawaii Prep World after an 83-0 win over Radford. “We’re not treating this game any different. It’s just a regular game.”

There it is. A throwback team willing to sledgehammer the ball between the tackles from start to finish against the nation’s premier program, one with a seemingly open wallet to reel in the finest talent from near and far. If the jumbo package stalls, it will be imperative for Maiava, who has a scholarship offer from Michigan, to do enough through the air to keep the Gaels honest.

Until the state-title game, no team scored more than seven points against Kahuku. The Red Raiders permitted a mere 4.1 points per contest with five shutouts. This season, Kahuku has shut out three opponents already. Tata’s imprint — a minimum of penalties, well executed schemes on defense and special teams, and hardly ever a turnover offensively — all harken back to a time when discipline prevailed.

Even in the glitz and glitter of Las Vegas, discipline might be the difference on Saturday night.


  1. anywaaaays!! September 14, 2016 1:58 pm

    Finally! a Kahuku Football article written by PH.
    Well done!

    PH did you confirm that Haskell was not recruited/ invited to Gorman? From what I understand there is a “recruiter” on Gormans staff with Hawaii ties (cough, cough! LB coach C.Brown cough!!) that has been scouting youth leagues here in Hawaii and sending out invites to the elite kids. My friends son in Laie Big boys league caught the eye of this “recruiter” and this summer they moved to Vegas and are playing for Gormans intermediate team. Its a big sacrifice for the family but they did not seek out Gorman, Gorman invited.

  2. Education First September 14, 2016 2:12 pm

    I don’t think this is their ultimate test. It’s a test, but nowhere near the tests they face everyday.

    I actually think they will do fine against BG. Many of them are physically gifted. They play hard and compete. They are skilled on the football field.

    Everyday tests such as a pop quiz in Science, an arithmetic test in the 11th grade, a mini-test on the definitions of one-syllable words, and writing with a subject and a predicate is more challenging in my humble opinion than a football game.

    Let’s celebrate the fact that many people in this community relish the opportunity to participate in football than participate in the classroom.

    It will show this weekend. I expect the game to be competitive.

    Now if this was a math bowl, then it would get ugly. Luckily it’s not.

  3. Alpha September 14, 2016 2:18 pm

    Watched the elite11 on nfl network yesterday, Martell did well but not to the standard he was expected especially around the nations best qb’s….. yea it’s pretty much no contact pass league stuff, but it’s there for a reason. Even though some analyst think he’s the best in the nation he sure didn’t show it when it was time to shine away from your comfort zone (fully stacked all American team). But….. in that same show Tua shined the brightest, tacking home the elite 11 mvp and wining the opening. Helping these kids out during the offseason, watching them grow a strong local bond during camps keeps them rooted when they have to compete away from home. . . 808 take care 808, Kesi nd Co is gonna put these analyst words to the test. Their going to let everyone know they already played the best qb in the nation, he comes from Ewa Beach Hi by way of St louis H.S…… not taking away from Martell, BG scheduale is the toughest in the nation…

  4. Paper Crane September 14, 2016 2:43 pm

    Been saying all along after viewing the St John Bosco vs Bishop Gorman recent game whereas it wasn’t anything super great and all it takes is for our Red Raiders no mercy defense to run Tate (#18) Martell down until he’s stays shaken and then give Biaggio (#7) Ali Walsh no charge katoosh lesson on smash mouth pain and show Thompson (14) Robinson how we do our aerial smash mouth pick off and then that should shut down Bishop Gorman for an incredible upset in USA high school football history books this 21st Century; see for yourself peeps whereas the recent game tape will spell it out that St John Bosco showed that Bishop Gorman can be defeated and so let our Red Raiders varsity prove that’s so true. So enjoy OK. RR4L

  5. New Guy September 14, 2016 4:42 pm

    The best lessons in life aren’t necessarily learned in the classroom, textbook smarts don’t guarantee anyone a successful future, and standardized tests don’t measure intelligence.

  6. Concerned North Shore Parent September 14, 2016 5:36 pm

    It don’t matter. Just enjoy you guys trip up there. See the lights and strip. It won’t even be close. Gorman to fast and strong. At least those kids got to ride a plane. Kahuku 12 Gorman 45

  7. 808 RR4L September 14, 2016 7:12 pm



  8. Unko Alvin September 14, 2016 7:38 pm

    @New Guy, I agree with you 100% yet Education First (Grader) may give you some flack on that like he’s smarter then a 4th grader; get ready like he’s a wing nut only cross threaded without a bolt?.

  9. SetuTaifane September 15, 2016 3:27 am

    Gotta root for the red raiders tho. They representing the state of hawaii on a national scale for this game. They the underdog for this game but I cannot bash them cuz the representing for all of us including the haters. I hope they shock the highschool football world.

  10. TooMeke September 15, 2016 4:35 am

    @Education-ally Challenged:

    I’m down for a math, science, English, reading comprehension bowl!

    Just you and me, 1 on 1. Any time, anywhere.

    I’ll be waiting…but I won’t hold my breath.


  11. AUWE September 15, 2016 5:03 am

    @CNSP??? Everybody knows you not from here, nice try!! Give it a rest….

  12. C/O 83 September 15, 2016 6:35 am

    ENJOY! ENJOY! ENJOY! We’re cheering for you boys!

  13. Education First September 15, 2016 8:33 am

    TooMeke September 15, 2016 at 4:35 am
    @Education-ally Challenged:

    I’m down for a math, science, English, reading comprehension bowl!

    Just you and me, 1 on 1. Any time, anywhere.

    I’ll be waiting…but I won’t hold my breath.


    @ TooMeke, thanks for the smile. You just made my day maam! You want to challenge me? What are we going to cover? Counting to 10? ABC’s? Writing a sentence using a comma? For Social Studies are we going to discuss the American Flag? Or for Science are we going to talk about Biomes?

    HAHA, don’t waste my time little boy. Now get off your mommy’s computer and get to work. Oh sorry, I forgot you went to Kahuku and are unemployed.

    In that case, you are welcome for using my tax monies to pay for your welfare checks!

  14. NorthShoreFan September 15, 2016 9:58 am

    Coach Tata has put football back into Football.
    Interesting story about nationwide recruiting at the high school level? One thing to recuit athletes to the school but what kind of employment does the parent get?
    Anyhoo, home grown vs national recruits kind of game. IMUA RED RAIDERS!

  15. BG Alumni September 15, 2016 10:23 am

    Well said by a very successful coach:

    Gaels coach Kenny Sanchez told USA Today. “I think he should spend more time teaching his kids to overcome adversity than make excuses for adversity.”

    Sure sounds like some of the isle schools have the same issues against other isle schools.

  16. iwannaknow September 15, 2016 11:01 am

    too bad they couldn’t play at a bigger site…..the place would be packed.

  17. TooMeke September 15, 2016 11:04 am

    Well said by a very well FUNDED coach.

  18. TooMeke September 15, 2016 11:10 am

    @Education-ally Challenged:

    Stop listing your limits so publicly:

    “Counting to 10? ABC’s? Writing a sentence using a comma? For Social Studies are we going to discuss the American Flag? Or for Science are we going to talk about Biomes?”

    Let me know when you can start listing things beyond your high school senior year.


  19. BG Alumni September 15, 2016 11:16 am

    Yes TooMeke,

    Not all, but most successful programs are well funded. If you take a look at the Top 10 NCAA football teams, they too are well funded in comparison to programs that are financially struggling.
    So yes, BG very fortunate to have strong support from its students, staff, alumni, community, and financial backers.
    A great coach cannot just rely on coaching football to build a great team. He has to also be a great salesperson and able to bring on investors to support his cause. Coaching football is only one little aspect of the job.

  20. TooMeke September 15, 2016 12:33 pm

    That was a long-winded roundabout way of saying he does very little coaching.

    Trying to validate the success without acknowledging the money behind it seems to be an exhausting endeavor.

    At least you accurately compared them to a college team… Big donors, Big money, Free ride scholarships, etc. Good comparison.

  21. Alpha September 15, 2016 1:07 pm

    BG Alumni September 15, 2016 at 11:16 am

    …… A great coach cannot just rely on coaching football to build a great team. He has to also be a great salesperson and able to bring on investors to support his cause. Coaching football is only one little aspect of the job.

    Great coaches make men out of boys, they teach life lessons. Get the kids ready for the next level in life and not just sports in general. Your statement makes it seem that BG puts the buisness before the game. Only in the nfl that happens, if your a coach in college or high school your job isn’t to just win games. . . Like Coach Sanchez said about the a letter from TX, “He should teach the kids how to overcome adversity”…. IMO if your a great coach the money will come, not the other way around….

  22. AUWE September 15, 2016 1:12 pm

    I tend to slightly disagree, you can have the best of everything but without a good field general, your army would get slaughtered. Just saying, you still need a good coach, but yes having the best resources makes it a little easier..

  23. 87 September 15, 2016 2:12 pm

    Tate Martell likes to talk alot on twitter, too bad cause he aint even that good, hell go to college and be average definately not NFL talent. He forget that we already beat a 5star QB in Tua, martells 4star only comes because he is surrounded by talent

  24. Unko Alvin September 15, 2016 3:24 pm

    yep, Education First (Grade) is definitely not smarter then a 4th grader is you all notice.

  25. Chloropicrin September 15, 2016 10:05 pm

    Kahuku is putting Hawaii football on the map, they’re representing the state the way UH football should be doing. I wouldn’t be suprised to see Tata get an offer from UH to come onboard as a DC or some defensive coach, in a year or two if the current Defensive staff can’t get the job done, or a head coach job if Rolo ever gets axed.

  26. TooMeke September 16, 2016 5:52 am

    livestream at 4 p.m. Hawaii time tomorrow. I’ll be there! HA!

  27. Paper Crane September 16, 2016 1:05 pm

    My final score predicted: Kahuku 28 and Bishop Gorman 19

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