(Note: Here’s the original version of the ILH football preview that was shortened in print today.)
In the state’s only exclusively private-school sports league, it’s not about lacking confidence.
If you’re Saint Louis, the most recent Interscholastic League of Honolulu title seems so long ago. If you’re Punahou, it’s been almost two years since the state crown. Even Kamehameha, the defending state champ, is starting to forget last season’s glory after a loss to Farrington on Friday.
The competition is cut-throat. The history is fabled. If everything wasn’t tough enough for the league’s Division I programs, D-II ‘Iolani always looms as a potential champion over the powerhouses.
That’s why, for all the pressure and intensity of the first three weeks of nonconference competition, contenders in the ILH are interesting in being healthy when the regular season kicks off this weekend. Not a single coach wanted to be ranked No. 1 in preseason; the fewer distractions, the better.
But this is the ILH, where most games are played in Aloha Stadium and the glam that comes with high rankings is just part of the turf.
Coach: Punahou Aina
Last year: 1-10 (1-7 ILH)
On paper: Though they struggled in a tough league last season, the Monarchs were competitive thanks to a massive offensive line and playmakers like Makana Ka‘annoi.
The string of game-breaking running backs, though, may have ended. Going back, Damien has enjoyed the exploits of Kama Bailey, Kealoha Pilares and Brennan Furtado. Without an athlete at that level, the Monarchs’ I-formation set has been tweaked.
The gauntlet has been merciless with losses to Aiea, Radford and Castle, but Aina sees potential.
Quarterback Alan Mohika and wide receivers Dustin Lungay and Shayvis Wilson are progressing. Dustin Lungay has improved at running back, though the team lost a promising athlete in Tanner Asuncion (5-10, 170), who was recently accepted into Kamehameha, Aina said.
The offensive line is anchored by seniors Logan Waracka (5-11, 220) and Beau Flores (5-11, 255).
Damien is young defensively, though three returning starters are back at linebacker. Austyn Flores (5-9, 205), Maui Bayne-Bryant (5-10, 175) and Stacen Choy (5-9, 160) are key to the unit.
Wilson will also see time on defense as a safety.
The skinny: Injuries and inexperience have hindered the Monarchs’ progress, but they’re continuing to open up the offense with more passing and flex-option plays.
“We’re young and it shows in every aspect. Even though we’re young and not as big as other teams, if we play mistake-free football, we can compete,” Aina said.
X factor: The Monarchs can be competitive at D-II if they can stay away from injuries.
Coach: Wendell Look
Last year: 12-2 (8-1 ILH)
On paper: The Raiders won their fourth HHSAA D-II state crown last season with strength up the middle. Quarterback Jarrett Arakawa and defensive tackles Sealii Epenesa and Kaena Moose have graduated, leaving ‘Iolani vulnerable.
The cupboard, of course, is never bare for ‘Iolani. Kevin Barayuga (57 receptions, 645 yards, 13 touchdowns) is back to give an inexperienced crops of quarterbacks a capable target. Trevyn Tulonghari (77 catches, 1,049 yards, 10 TDs) is recovering from an offseason ankle injury.
‘He’s touch and go, yet. He’s making progress,” Look said of the injury, which occurred during a summer football camp.
Linebacker Cody Petro-Sakuma is a tackling machine and cornerback Reid Saito are playmakers on defense.
“We have talent. It’s just a matter of them getting that talent together,” Look said.
The skinny: The good news is that the Raiders’ no-huddle, run-and-shoot offense is in good hands. Whose hands, exactly, remains to be seen as Reece Foy and Josiah Situmeang have gotten snaps through ‘Iolani’s 2-1 nonconference slate.
Foy (552 yards, 37-for-60, six TDs) has the statistical edge so far, but went down with a knee injury in a win over Kaiser. Projected starter Josh Hannum had already been sidelined with an injury to his shoulder injury and could possibly return this season.
If Situmeang starts by default, he’ll have an experienced offensive line and a seasoned running back in Ammon Baldomero to rely on.
X factor: Without their interior defensive linemen of a year ago, the Raiders will have to get creative. With defensive coordinator Delbert Tengan, the former Saint Louis coach, drawing up the schemes, ‘Iolani is in for an adventure.
Coach: David Stant
Last year: 12-1 (7-1 ILH)
On paper: So much talent walked away with graduation, from a stalwart defensive line and lockdown cornerback Chaz Bajet, to state player of the year Ryan Ho and quarterback T.C. Campbell.
Quite a bit of talent remains, however, with defensive end Koa Ka‘ai and defensive bak Walter Santiago. Blaze Ryder leads another stout offensive line.
Quarterback Christian Akana and running back Jason Muraoka, both reserves last season, are prepared to step up. Defensively, middle linebacker Kawika Stant is out with an elbow injury, but is expected to return this month.
The skinny: Experience is vital to this program, especially in the multi-dimensional pistol sets. Campbell needed a half-season to find his groove in the pocket, and once he did, the Warriors went on scoring tears of 44, 50, 21, 45, 40 and 34 points to close out their championship season.
A 21-12 loss to Farrington on Friday was a surprise, but not a shock. How soon can the Warriors develop a balanced offense? It’s tough to expect the progress that they got from Campbell a year ago, but that’s the standard this coaching staff has achieved.
X factor: Kamehameha loves to utilize the tight end, and they have a potentially great one in Keoni Bush-Loo (6-3, 230), who is just a junior.
Coach: Kip Botelho
Last year: 7-5 (4-5 ILH)
On paper: There may never be a passer as proficient and prolific at Pac-Five again. Shifty P.J. Minaya passed for 3,721 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior, while playmakers including Darin Kamealoha and London Amorin graduated, as well.
Still, the ‘Pack has been tough in three nonconference games, beating Kaiser (7-3) and losing to Campbell (14-12) and Kailua (38-21).
The skinny: The return of Everett Kim, perhaps the grittiest receiver in the state, is a big boost for the ‘Pack. Last season, Kim had filled in for injured teammates and racked up nearly 40 receptions in a half-season before suffering a neck injury. He’s back stronger than ever and had seven catches for 72 yards against Campbell.
Pac-Five also returns Chalson Baition and Jordan Doi offensively, while running back Darius Anderson and quarterback Jack Foster are the new starters.
X factor: The addition of players from Word of Life, which closed its school after the spring, is a lift for the ‘Pack. Among them is linebacker Richard Landford (5-11, 217).
Coach: Kale Ane
Last year: 5-5 (5-3 ILH)
On paper: Most programs can’t keep pace after losing all-state players like safety Brian Suite (Utah State), offensive lineman Kaimi Crabb (Colorado) and defensive back Jeremy Ioane (Boise State).
The Buffanblu just go back to work. Defensive end DeForest Buckner (6-foot-7, 230 pounds) spent part of his offseason learning how to cover receivers as a linebacker. The offensive line, led by senior Keenan Faatea, has few peers in terms of talent and experience.
The skinny: The Buffanblu started last year slowly, but were right there in the ILH title chase at the end, losing to Kamehameha in a decisive game. That was a moral victory considering the injury issues that plagued the squad all season.
The questions remain. Can Liloa Travis return and be effective at quarterback after sitting out the first month of the season (knee)? Or is Lopaka Matsuo (6-1, 235), who was a tight end two seasons ago, ready to guide the pistol offense?
Third-stringer Kale Dyas was solid in a 10-0 win over Moanalua on Saturday, but the bulk of the work was done by the O-line and running back Steven Lakalaka, a dual threat who runs with ferocity. Mountan Mitchell, who caught a 73-yard touchdown, shows glimpses of potential, but without a regular starter at quarterback, Punahou’s passing game may not get into sync for awhile.
Defensively, Punahou has experience in the secondary, which lost Suite, but has returnees like Kevin Tongg. Linebacker K.T. Tuumalo (6-3, 210) and nose guard Fetelini Sekona (6-1, 290) will be tested regularly in a league featuring many of the state’s top blockers.
Kaimi Fairbairn rates among the top kickers in the islands.
X factor: Luke Kaumatele (6-7, 245) continues to be a work in progress in his first stint of organized football. The speedy defensive end had 1.5 sacks in the Moanalua game, but also was penalized for a roughing-the-passer play.
Coach: Darnell Arceneaux
Last year: 7-4 (4-4 ILH), John Hao
On paper: As much as anyone else who has worn the navy blue and red, Arceneaux understands what football success means to the Crusaders. Two winning seasons weren’t enough for John Hao, who was released in the offseason. Arceneaux wound up returning to his alma mater and instilling a new vigor into the program, from summer workouts to his natural affinity for camaraderie with everyone from assistant coaches to players.
The Crusaders are balanced and loaded at nearly every position. Quarterback Marcus Mariota’s speed is matched by no other passer in the state, as his 52-yard touchdown jaunt against Kahuku on Friday demonstrated.
The defensive unit, with the return of linebacker Starr Sua-Passi, is equally formidable. The return of defensive back Kalei Contrades from last year’s injury is a big plus.
The skinny: Depth at the slotbacks, receivers and offensive line make this unit formidable. Running backs Derek Nakasato and Keanu Mook-Garcia are scatback-type athletes; the Saints haven’t lined up a big back since Prince Brown nearly a decade ago.
This makes for long, painful nights when unprepared defenses meet the Saints, though: Mariota can utilize as many as five speedy targets at any time on any play.
It was effective against Kahuku for most of the first half and part of the fourth quarter, but in the third quarter, their potent offense was silenced by a physical, fast defense.
That should provide plenty of fuel and motivation for the Crusaders, if they ever need any.
X factor: Special teams, with some snap issues on punts, was a factor in the 49-27 loss at Kahuku. Once that’s cleaned up, the Crusaders will get an edge back. Jesse Correa is among the finest place-kickers in the state.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser