Back in the day, there was a certain way to play linebacker in the trenches.
Blaze Soares was the epitome, his picture next to “linebacker’ in the dictionary. Soares was a fixture of Castle’s defense during an OIA championship season in 2002. The following year, the league split into Divisions I and II.
Soares went on to a big role at Hawaii, and now, at 31, he’s a family man. He is also a first-year defensive coordinator at No. 5-ranked Campbell, which plays No. 4 Kahuku on Saturday in the first round of the OIA Open Division playoffs.
Coach Soares chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday.
HPW: By Open Division standards, Campbell’s front seven isn’t the biggest or thickest group. Very athletic. Peter Manuma moved from defensive back to linebacker this season and I wondered how he would hold up in the trenches full-time at 180 pounds. Then he got banged up a couple of weeks ago. Is he back yet?
Soares: We rested Peter against Kamehameha so he would be ready for this week’s game.
HPW: He’s such a valuable piece on defense, a very good DB, but when Tyrese Tafai had shoulder surgery, Peter stepped in nicely. It’s tough in there at 180.
Soares: My senior year I was only 205.
HPW: And you played like 250. You were a beast. Tyrese came back a few weeks ago and is making plays. How is he doing?
Soares: Tyrese is showing drastic improvement, finally getting his confidence back. He’s flying around and very vocal.
HPW: He wasn’t available when Campbell played Kahuku the first time.
Soares: That game really haunts me because we didn’t play to our full potential. That was a great job by Kahuku. They kicked our butts. It was very embarrassing, but the good thing is our boys have a second chance to prove everybody wrong.
HPW: Kahuku is probably in if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mode. They ran the ball and didn’t need to throw when they played Campbell.
Soares: We’re going up against a well-coached, physical team. The coaches out there have the size to do it. They’re bigger and stronger than everybody, so why not run the ball down everybody’s throats, but when you face the teams that can match up, that’s a different story. The coaches there do a good job with what they’ve got.
HPW: Getting everyone healthy makes a big difference. You didn’t have Tyrese, didn’t have Poki‘i Adkins-Kupukaa. What will it take to slow Kahuku’s ground game down?
Soares: We showed flashes that we can stop the run, but we still haven’t been consistent. It’s just cleaning up the little things, alignment-assignment. When they gassed us with all those big plays, it’s about identifying formation.
HPW: Do you put a lot of emphasis on film study for the defense?
Soares: A lot of kids, they have iPhones and it transitions to film, so it works hand in hand with each other. They work better with film than just telling them on the practice field. I like to study teams so I feel like it really benefits the kids a lot. As a coach I’m trying to get them prepared for the next level, teaching them the things they’ll see in college. I actually test the kids about the other team’s formations.
HPW: The best class ever. How does the test work?
Soares: I’ll show 12 formations, and which are automatic checks, and the captains call it on the field as they see it.
HPW: When I think of defenses that are undersized compared to their competition, I remember Castle back in the day, a defense like ‘Iolani this year. They might give up almost 300 yards to Alfred Failauga (of Waipahu), but they’ll swarm and gang tackle, and win by two or three touchdowns.
Soares: That’s a true challenge over there at ‘Iolani and, truthfully, they play great fundamental football. Their schemes fit their kids. That coach is amazing.
HPW: Kahuku poses a challenge at a David-versus-Goliath level.
Soares: They come out in 22 and 21 personnel. We really know what they’re going to do. They come out with that wildcat. It’s no tricky plays. They’re just going to out-physical us. I truly believe if our alignments are right, there’s a strong possibility we can stop this run. If our kids embrace this type of physical game, I truly believe it’s going to be a very good game to watch.
HPW: This is the kind of game your team at Castle always found a way to compete in, to win.
Soares: As a player I used to look forward to these kinds of games. The true animal in you will come out. It’s a good challenge for us. What do you know about the (interleague) pilot program? Is it going to change?
HPW: I’ve heard different scenarios, different opinions. Nothing concrete yet, but very intriguing stuff.
Soares: It’s really coming down to recruiting now. You have to recruit, that’s he bottom line. To be a successful program, you have to do what Mililani is doing. Playing against Saint Louis and Punahou, the talent level on the field is crazy. Saint Louis, (quarterback Jayden) de Laura played to the end of the third, but the 2s are such a small drop-off.
HPW: Then there are schools just trying to keep a competitive team on the field. The teams that Nelson Maeda and his staff coached in your era, they were remarkable. Small, but tough, physical and lots of speed.
Soares: At Castle, we get the spunky kids who have the attitude, they keep coming. Our Castle team that won it, we have a lot of similarities to this Campbell team, to keep fighting back. That’s why I enjoy coaching, sometimes I see myself in these kids.
HPW: I’m told that you still get on the field and run, line up at linebacker and demonstrate what you want. How old are you now?
Soares: I’m 31. I still work out with the kids. I teach them better when I’m showing them how to do it rather than just point the finger. I’m still involved, I’m still passionate. It keeps me feeling young.
HPW: So when Campbell’s offensive coordinator, Jaymason Lee — another former Castle standout — gets on the scout team and starts throwing darts, that’s almost unfair. He was a good college quarterback.
Soares: Jaymason, he’s the best scout team QB. He lights it up. He drops dimes on us. He really simulates the other offense well. Big props to him. The balls he throws, right in the pocket. Jesus Christ, can you throw the ball any better? We’re the two youngest coordinators in the state right now.
HPW: Your defensive line, with tough kids like Ivan Soriano, has to deal with 250-, 300-pound offensive linemen all the time in the Open Division.
Soares: We average around 210, 220 on the D-line, but they play with lot of heart and show lot of grit. I wouldn’t replace them with anybody.