FOURTH IN A SERIES
It’s Year 2 of the John Hao regime at Castle and there is a buzz in Kaneohe that the Knights are going to be competitive in Division I in the inaugural season of the OIA-ILH alliance.
Castle went 3-6 in Hao’s first year, continuing the win-some, lose-some pattern. However, gone are all of those mega-teams up to the Open Division. Those are teams Castle had to contend with — and, more often than not, fall to — to get to the playoffs — Kapolei, Mililani, Farrington, Kahuku, Campbell and Waianae. They usually toughed it out in recent years against them, though.
The opponents this year will be more in Castle’s league — Aiea, Radford, Nanakuli, Damien, etc.
Hao looked at the list of 10 D-I alliance teams and three caught his eye immediately as contenders — Leilehua, Waipahu and Moanalua.
In reality, as Mules coach Mark Kurisu said recently, there will be NO easy games, and that includes the top of the heap squads not getting any patsies.
Austin Acosta, who played some at quarterback last year returns. Another QB is in the mix, though — Pono Giron, a transfer from Utah.
“Austin has grown,” Hao said. “He’s bigger, taller, stronger, faster. He’s a good athlete. On the baseball team, he had more skills than any other player.”
Hao says he continues to struggle in changing the culture into a “student-first” atmosphere.
“We try every day, harping and reminding them and drilling it in their minds that school is first,’ he said. “Football has an expiration date. Knowledge is forever. If I can change just a handful of kids and keep them focused on education and doing what they’re supposed to be doing … . One percent make it to college football and probably 1 percent of 1 percent make it to the NFL.
“We have a lot of talented kids at Castle, but education is borderline (right now) and colleges won’t take a chance on them. We want to raise that standard. We want them to achieve 3.0 or 3.5, and then the colleges will move forward with them.
“We’re just teaching the basics of football, the knowledge of football. We’ve got a lot of kids who haven’t played in three years and we have a lot of new faces who have never played before. We’re trying to get their minds back into the football sense.
“I’m nowhere near satisfied with our success in the football world. If we end up with a winning record and we fight all the way through, I would call it a success. But trying to change the culture, attitude and behavior is one difficult task.”
Hao pointed to a handful of Knights who are leading the charge this season, trying to build on last season that ended with a 24-9 loss to Campbell in the first round of the playoffs. The coaches thoughts on those players follow.
>> Raiden Wong, defensive end: “He’s a hard worker, big and strong, and projected to be one of the top ends in D-I. He’s probably our best defensive lineman, and transferred over from receiver to D-end. He’s a speedy track guy. I like both power and speed in ends, but I’d rather have speed. One of my assistants, Jordan Oue, is the track head coach and is an ex-football player.”
>> Bruce Pakele, linebacker and safety: “He’s an energetic guy, always lively, very vocal. He’s the one who will lively up the defense, and he plays running back as well.”
>> Keanu Tilton, linebacker, running back: “He’s an all-around guy. Will be a starting linebacker, a starting running back, and in the last two weeks, he’s been a starting left guard because of others who are injured. He’s a big brute, a good leader and willing to do what it takes to help this team succeed. He’s a great running back and a pretty good linebacker. Big strong and aggressive.”
>> Josiah Enos, left tackle, center: “He is projected to be one of our leaders on the O-line. At 6-3 and 270, he has a strong upper body and a very strong bottom half, too. He’s a dirt bike rider; his body is always in motion.”
>> Travis Emosi, tackle, center: He’s our strong guy … beef. Quiet and humble, but very aggressive.”
Emosi talked about the upcoming season.
“We’re putting in the work to get that D-I championship going,” he said. “Every day, we’re working hard, getting our plays in. The team is very discipined. We listen to the coaches, and when one of player needs help, they jump in and help us. The teach you individually and how to work as a team.”
In a nonleague season opener Aug. 3, the Knights visit Kapolei to play against the Open Division (top tier) Hurricanes. Castle’s first alliance game is at home against Moanalua on Aug. 10.
Next in series: McKinley Tigers