Player turnout going well for new Hilo head coach Chris Todd

Hilo’s Keanu Keolanui (82) kicks a 55-yard field goal to win the 2019 HHSAA Division I state championship game over Iolani, 20-17, on Nov. 29, 2019, at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. Andrew Lee/Special to Star-Advertiser.

A year ago, Chris Todd was very content to be a husband, father and friendly neighborhood state representative from Hilo.

Today, he is still all of the above. Just add head coach to his list of duties. After 10 seasons as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator, and one year away from the game, Todd will guide the Vikings through their first football season since 2019.

The timing worked out. Kaeo Drummondo stepped down as head coach after the ’19 season — and Hilo’s second Division I state title — Todd soon followed. With a baby at home and his work as a state representative, he was ready to reinvest his time. Little Ruby is now 3, however, and that changes the landscape.

“I would bring her down to the field last year and she was 15 months old. My wife is a teacher and I was trying my best to coach with (Ruby) or have her hang out with some of the student managers. She is 3 now, practically an adult,” Todd said. “Now that she’s in preschool during the season, that’s going to make things a lot easier, for sure.”

State Rep. Chris Todd has served District 2 (Hilo) since 2017. Photo courtesy of Chris Todd.

Drummondo later became the new athletic director after Kurt Kawachi retired.

“When the opportunity came up with Kaeo as athletic director, I felt ready to step back in. I put in through the process,” Todd said.

Lave Suiaunoa had been promoted to head coach before Drummondo was hired as AD, after Kawachi left.

“I did talk to Lave and offered him an assistant coach position, but he’s gong to take some time away, too,” Todd said.

The combination of roles means Todd has a sacrifice to make.

“I”m still a pretty young guy. I’m 33. I’m probably not going to play a video game for a very long time. Pretty much, even now with the summer, 100 parent of my time is work, being a husband and father, and football,” he said. “Hopefully, there’s time for a book.”

The legislative session, from January to early May, doesn’t conflict directly with football season. That doesn’t change the commitment of Hilo’s staff, or of Todd.

“As an offensive coordinator prior to this, I was already putting in 500 or 600 hours per year in meetings, supervising workouts, being on the field, scouting, that sort of thing. This is a larger commitment, but I know what I’m getting myself into. The administrative duties and organizational commitment, I’m going to be relying heavily on my staff,” he said.

For 10 seasons, Chris Todd was a Hilo assistant coach. Photo courtesy of Poi Dog Photography.

The winter-spring stretch is crucial, Todd notes, because of the program’s core values.

“When I’m on Oahu, that’s a strength and conditioning period. We have a vey experienced and, hopefully, available staff. Ryan Taniguchi is really outstanding. He runs our ROTC program and is also our wrestling coach. He has a huge passion for this and just got his degree in strength and conditioning,” Todd said. “We’re also going to make sure there’s not too much of a burden on him.”

The Vikings also have a new assistant coach in Damien Packer, a former Keaau standout.

“He started at safety for the University of Hawaii and now he’s back, trying to give back and work with young people. It’s been great having him on, trying to educate our young defensive backs and working on those cones again,” Todd said.

Turnout for workouts has been steady, he added.

“It’s pretty much where we normally are in the summer, around 45. Of those guys, there are guys who are there every day, others who flex it. It’s better than expected,” Todd said. “Hilo (High) stayed in distance learning for the most part through the whole year. Getting everyone back into a routine was really important. Our numbers show there’s a lot of excitement to come back and put on the pads.”

Todd likes the work ethic.

“We just started up our strength and conditioning work, so we’re in the weight room, trying to get some speed and agility work going. We’re trying our best to keep our student-athletes in pods by position group, trying to limit contact, get things sanitized as best as we can,” Todd said. “I think it’s easier in the summer since you don’t have your full roster every day.”

The new staff is a mix of the old and the new.

“I do think we’re going to tweak things here and there, but we also want to keep things familiar with the players. Our new defensive coordinator is Maui Ramos, a former DC at Kamehameha-Hawaii. We’re trying to marry the terminology and adapt to personnel. Right now, we’re in that period where we’re trying to figure out what we have, bringing in players with no varsity experience, trying to have continuity,” Todd said.

The Viks have some standout returnees in running back/strong safety Lyle Silva (5-9, 190) and nose tackle/offensive lineman Tyson Kaniaupio (6-2, 280).

Wide receiver/defensive back Koa Akui (5-10, 165) was on the JV team in ’19.

“He has worked hard, developed his body and technique,” Todd said. “Those three have been traveling for camps. We’ve been putting their names out there. It’s a big effort to get those guys out of here and into college, get them educated for free if we can.”

Todd double majored in economics and political science at UH-Manoa. A day after graduation, he went to work at Suisan Fish Market in Hilo.

“I was originally going to be a teacher. I took the classes and exams, and was going into a program at UH, but it didn’t get accredited when I was graduating. I was going to have to wait a year, so I went to work,” he said. “Seeing my wife work hard every night (as a teacher), it puts it all into perspective.”

Pro tip from Todd: “I think the best time to get fish (at Suisan) is 9 or 10 in the morning. That’s right when everything is made and available. Everything is fresh and your not pounded with a line yet. That place is so busy.”

He is also clearly on one side of the fresh-versus-frozen debate.

“In Hawaii, the reality is you should assume your fish has been frozen or gas treated. I think if you eat a lot of poke, you can tell the difference. Part of it is texture and color. A lot of people think, if it’s frozen, it’s safer, but whenever we had an outbreak of Hepatitis A associated with seafood, it’s pretty much always because it’s frozen and gas treated in a foreign country with lower labor standards,” Todd noted. “Fresh fish that is caught here, you can trust the process, the Department of Health standards, the labor standards. There’s a lot more control in place. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat the frozen fish, but when I was working at Suisan, I was more of a snob about it. I was just accustomed to the fresh fish. I was eating so much.”

As a whole, working out on campus has been largely therapeutic for players and coaches with the return of sports this past spring. For now, there are no scrimmages or preseason games scheduled for Hilo.

“I’m excited to get this started. Being on both sides of things, I think we need more clarity from the state. It can be frustrating. We need a firm date on start times. We need to be realistic about this. There are a lot of contradictions on what is allowed and not allowed. That needs to be cleared up real soon,” Todd said. “There are already families moving their student-athletes to the mainland in anticipation of having no season here. There should be no reason why that should be the case.”

Safety remains the utmost concern, and the Viking players have stepped up.

“At this point, what I found is our vaccination rate through the football program is substantially higher than the student population in general. They understand the risk and they don’t want to jeopardize the season and their teammates’ health. We got pretty good response. We’ve got a lot of kids who say, ‘Coach, I can’t go to the weight room today. I’m getting my second shot,’ “ Todd said. “For the kids, the reward system is pretty concrete. If you’re safe and make good decisions, you’re going to have a season.”


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