PREPPING for 2018: Moanalua Na Menehune

Moanalua's Ezra Bantolina, Drayden Von Oelhoffen and Jim-Matthew Cardenas scrambled to recover a fumble during the first half of a 17-14 win over Kailua in the OIA playoffs last year. Photo by Steven Erler / Special to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.


For two seasons under coach Savai’i Eselu, Moanalua has been a playoff team.

He’s trying to continue the trend and maybe go further. Two years ago, Na Menehune qualified for states but went down in the Division I (middle tier) first round in a 17-14 loss to ‘Iolani. Last year, there was a playoff win followed by a playoff loss, but no states.

One good sign for Moanalua in this preseason was a strong performance against Saint Louis in a scrimmage. Strong is a relative term, because it’s tough to push around the No. 12 team in the MaxPreps national poll.

“We started that scrimmage sluggish,” Eselu said. “By the end, I liked what we saw. What better way to start than to get the first crack at the No. 12 team in the nation? For the most part, everything was sharp.”

Now that Na Menehune (a middle of the pack Division I team in the past) remain in D-I while many of the powerhouses they used to play against have moved up to the Open Division, does that mean Moanalua will be a favorite in the new OIA-ILH alliance?

The answer will eventually come. At first glance, the 10-team division appears to be balanced across the board.

“It comes down to coaching and schemes and all that stuff,” Eselu said. “I think we’ve got it right on the whole. But it will be crazy every week.

“We’ve matured a whole lot. We do have a good crop of returnees. Everyone is policing each other. I appreciate that. I don’t have to coach that. Everyone knows their deal and everyone is kind of helping out for the whole, the better cause. It’s not a me, me, me thing. So that was the biggest growing trend we’ve had this year, along with some athletes that we’ve acquired. We’ve got a Farrington kid, a Kapolei kid, an and an Aiea kid.”

Here is what Eselu had to say about some of his leaders:

>> Tupu Alualu, defensive lineman: “Big Tupu, he’s a bunker buster in the middle, even on the outside. He’s like a ‘tweener. If we trim him down a little, he will have that faster first step (for the outside) That’s kind of a mini project.”

>> Ezra Grace, wide receiver: “He’ll be bringing a lot of attention his way with his sheer ability. He doesn’t always blow the lid off of the coverage, but he can. He’s tall and rangy.”

>> Micah Kim, linebacker, running back: “He’s a two-way guy. He has a lot of talent and he does it all with spark and speed.”

>> Jacob Copeland, running back: “He’s up from the JVs, a special running back. He adds a dimension to it because he’s also a quarterback, a Tim Tebow-style kind of thing.”

>> Tre Barrett, safety: “A transfer from Farrington, he has great potential as a safety, and he can be a special feature back. And he can throw it.”

Unlike most teams across the state, Moanalua does not play a nonleague game this weekend. Na Menehune open the OIA-ILH D-I alliance Aug. 10 at Castle.

“We’ve stalled out at the same spot (both years),” Eselu said. “Last year (the season ended when we) got crushed by Mililani. Enough already.”


Next in series: St. Francis Saints.

• Aiea Na Alii
Campbell Sabers
• Castle Knights
• Farrington Governors
• Kahuku Red Raiders
• Kaimuki Bulldogs
• Kaiser Cougars
• Leilehua Mules
• McKinley Tigers
Mililani Trojans
• Nanakuli Golden Hawks
Pearl City Chargers


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email