EIGHTH IN A SERIES
It was a down year for Nanakuli last season as far as wins and losses go — 1-7 and no playoffs.
But that did little to diminish the positive outlook by the coaches for 2018 or dent what always is the endless flow of support from the tight-knit town.
One big positive for the Golden Hawks is that the participation numbers have gone up this summer, according to coach Kili Watson.
“I would describe this team as a competitive bunch,” he said before going into the numbers situation.
“Last year, the JV dwindled to 17 and is now up to 35, with more potentially coming in,” he added. “The varsity is up to 40, and we were below 30 last year.”
Another plus is the depth on the line.
“We just got out of our strength and conditioning program and you could see a lot of progress and benefit,” the coach said. “We’ve gained some linemen this year and we have a lot of returning linemen. We’re going to see how the strength and conditioning translates to Friday and Saturday nights.”
One rallying cry at Nanakuli’s practices is: “High intensity, low stupidity.”
“We want to get out there and play the toughest football we can, but between the whistles and while doing your assignment,” Watson said. “And they understand that.
“The kids in the program are tough kids … a lot of tough guys. In the offseason, we’ve made that a point of emphasis — wanting guys to be tough, doing your job no matter what and use that to your advantage. We’re usually outmanned and undersized, and go against other teams that are stronger and faster. But we’ve always got one thing to our advantage — toughness and grit.”
Watson, who is starting his second season as head coach after taking over for his brother Keala Watson, reminds the Nanakuli fans that it’s good to look at the big picture.
“Our seniors are setting high standards for upcoming players,” he said. “Eighteen of our seniors from last year got accepted into colleges and universities and for our kids that’s a huge accomplishment. A couple continued to play on. Our community leaders rally around us. We had a disappointing season, not getting the results we wanted, but sometimes you get blinded by not seeing the other benefits. The point of our conversations as coaches is how can we sustain a competitive team year in and year out.”
Watson gave his thoughts on some of the Golden Hawks’ 2018 leaders:
>> Micah Manewa, strong safety: “He’s going to be a senior, an athletic kid who put in a lot of work this offseason. The defense will be working around him, being that he is one of the rare players coming through the program. He’s the younger brother of (former Nanakuli standout) Randy Manewa and he’s just as athletic. A tough kid. I love his attitude. He was voted as captain and embraces the role, and teammates look up to him.”
>> Logan Hansen, H back: “A senior now, he just joined our program as a junior. He also got voted a captain. One thing that I admire is that he excels in the weight room and on the field and does just as well in the classroom, an above 4.0 student. He was on the O-line, but he put so much work in — his footwork and his agility, and he slimmed down — so we’re trying him out as H back.”
>> Aalona Aleka, running back, slotback: “A senior right now and he is in that scatback position, some running back, some at slotback. He is shifty and agile. Undersized at 5-foot-4, but he can move and he’s a tough kid and can deliver big hits if he needs to. He’s not going to let his size slow him down. He did a good job as a junior. I envision him as a go-to player.”
>> Kealoha Werner, linebacker: “The same thing as with Hansen, he just came out last year. But I’m so excited for him. He was one of the few fully committed guys in the entire offseason. We had him rotating in on the D-line last year, but he put so much work in in the offseason and slimmed down, so we’ll be using him at middle linebacker. He’ll be anchoring the linebackers.”
>> Gavin Vea-Flint, wide receiver: “He’s an upcoming guy and only a junior. He’s a possession receiver, and at 6-2, 160, he goes up to get it and brings it back down.”
The Golden Hawks will play in Division I (the second of three tiers) in the newly formed OIA-ILH alliance. They open the season with a nonleague home game against D-II Roosevelt on Aug. 4.
Nanakuli’s alliance opener is Aug. 10 at Aiea.
“I gotta say, I actually like the new divisions,” Watson said. “You’re able to play these ILH teams and add some games to your season. I think it’s a more level playing field for our level of play. There’s a lot of competitive teams, Kailua, Leilehua, Moanalua and ‘Iolani, and there’s teams we haven’t played in a long time. I’m excited for it.”
Next in series: Kaiser Cougars.