SEVENTH IN A SERIES
Aiea football coach Wendell Say doesn’t care who Na Alii’s opponents are.
“Bring ’em on” has always been his mantra. Yet, he’s definitely not shedding tears that he won’t be going up against any of those Open Division teams that are part of the top tier of the new OIA-ILH alliance. Aiea is now in the second tier of competition — Division I.
“We like the breakup of the divisions now,” he said. “We don’t play Kahuku, Waianae or any of the big boys.”
Through the years, Aiea never ran away from those top dogs, but Na Alii definitely took some punches to the chin.
“All heart and not big in stature, that’s what Aiea football players are like,” Say said. “Kind of like the coach, always fighting an uphill battle.”
Na Alii went 2-6 a year ago, including a 41-0 playoff loss to Kapolei (one of those teams in the new Open Division)
“We had a lot of sophomores and juniors and they took their lumps,” Say said. “This year, as seniors, they’re more confident. They have a good opportunity to play to their potential and do well.
“Last year was a turning point for them. They started to believe more in themselves. They were always falling short with tough loses. I think we can turn those around this year.”
Say, who is starting his 27th year at the helm, says he sees a big boost in confidence.
“We’re starting off really well so far and hopefully that translates to when we put the pads on. These guys are small and certain things you measure with a ruler, but you gotta be with them to know now tough they are. The numbers are low, but the quality is good.”
Say talked about some of his leaders:
>> Babu Capanang, defensive back, wide receiver: “A three-year starter. A good verbal, vocal leader. Typical of an Aiea kid, only 5-foot-6, 140, but tough as nails.”
>> Fabian Bautista, receiver, defensive back: “He grew from about 5-6 to 5-9, but still lightweight at 140 pounds. Good football knowledge.”
>> Austin Mogote, defensive back, receiver: “Another three-year starter. Quiet leader by example. Always does things the right way.”
>> Zac Kalahiki-Basque, defensive back, receiver: “He’s 5-11, 180, one of the bigger kids. He brings a lot of experience, football knowledge and confidence. Has been with us for four years, so he knows the program in and out.”
>> Jonathan Pei, two-way lineman: “Will be going both ways, wherever we need him. He’s 6-2, 270. Probably his best positions are guard and defensive tackle. He’s another who has started since sophomore year, so the kids all look up to him.”
Kayson Castillo, a junior up from the JV team, is slotted in at quarterback. He missed most of last season due to a broken arm.”
Say is looking forward to the new alliance.
“Every week, you gotta be ready,” he said. “The competition is well balanced. Last year, you had teams in the OIA Red who were overmatched in size and numbers. There is more balance now. You’ve gotta be prepared. Everybody has a chance to beat each other.”
Aiea opens the season with a nonleague home game against Division II opponent Kaiser on Aug. 3. Na Alii’s first alliance game is Aug. 10 at home against Nanakuli.
>> Next in series: Nanakuli Golden Hawks.