Reigning in Division II was a dream for the Waipahu Marauders.
One year after taking the throne in Oahu Interscholastic Association D-II, the Marauders hoisted their black flag on the OIA D-I landscape. It is a rare D-II/D-I back-to-back title trek, but coach Bryson Carvalho says the notion of moving all the way up to Open Division is still a few years off.
Waipahu (8-4) hosts ‘Iolani on Friday in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships. The Marauders seem to have all the components necessary to slow down an ‘Iolani squad that’s hungry for a state title. Ground attack. Stellar defense. Maybe most of all, the Marauders have chemistry. Carvalho was a longtime assistant coach who was working on the mainland when he applied for the head coaching position, got hired and returned home.
Carvalho chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Sunday about our feature subject, Deacon Kapea, the rest of his league champion Marauders, and Friday’s showdown with a team that walloped Waipahu, 55-14, in preseason.
HPW: The first part of this interview is about Deacon, your senior safety, since we’re doing a feature on him. Do you remember the first time you saw Deacon on the field?
Carvalho: He came on last year. The hard part was we knew he was a running back, and we had Alfred (Failauga). We had them compete and what hurt his chances at really taking the spot was he went to a lot of the combines on the mainland, so he missed a lot of the summer last year. Alfred already had a year under his belt. Alfred spent the summer working on the new plays we installed and had the upper hand. But we definitely saw the potential Deacon had. We moved him over to safety and he did a great job, picked up the system and did some reps at running back. This year, when Alfred went down again, Deacon had a great game against Aiea. It just shows his natural athletic ability, being able to play both sides of the ball, stuff you cannot really teach. He learned from playing the sport for so many years.
HPW: Who does he remind you of?
Carvalho: I don’t know if I can compare him. He’s his own guy. Hopefully, one day I can start comparing other kids to him. He’s just a special kid. I coached him when he was playing for my youth league. He went to Damien (in seventh grade) and we kind of lost touch. I forgot kind of how he looked like. From 12, 13 they really start to mature in their looks. He came back and, ‘This is Deacon?’
HPW: What does his responsibility include now, and what do you see him doing at the college level?
Carvalho: He’s starting to get a little more freedom. He’s our strong safety, for sure, a guy who can come to the box and make plays in run support. He’s second in the state in interceptions, I think he has six. Zeondre (Benjamin) just had two in the championship game, so he has six, too.
HPW: How does he figure into the gameplan for the ‘Iolani game?
Carvalho: If they do run, we’ll definitely bring him down to the box. What concerns me is how they like to stretch the field with their screens. Those are very concerning to me. We need him there to make those stops. They’ll throw it out wide and force us to play sideline to sideline. They did that when we had 26 guys at 2 p.m. on their field, so we were just dying.
HPW: How did Deacon wind up working with you? Where is this restaurant?
Carvalho: It’s Eggs n’ Things across Ko Olina Resort. He needed a job and we also have what we call a personal transition plan at Waipahu High. Different things the students need to get done to get their graduating credential. They have to go through a mock interview. Usually they set it up freshman year. He transferred in (as a sophomore), so he never had that opportunity. He mentioned he wanted to start working, but in a job that worked well with being an athlete and student. I did the interview with him, he got hired and it was a win-win for both of us. He’s been an awesome employee for us, and he has some spending money for his gas and doesn’t have to rely on his mom (Danlynn Kapea) so much.
HPW: What qualities does he have as a busboy and employee that might have surprised you?
Carvalho: His interaction with guests. We work with a lot of tourists from all around the world that come here and vacation, and some of them don’t speak English, so it’s interesting to see how he’s able to communicate with them and provide good service. He’s also taking orders and he’s a server for us. He’s definitely shining and doing what we’re about here. He’s impressive.
HPW: He’s determined to play at the next level, so when he leaves, you lose a good employee.
Carvalho: But I’ll be happy to know he got experience over here with us.
HPW: What has his road been like since his father left?
Carvalho: It affected him. I’ve seen him emotional. But he just made the best of it. He has a good attitude and he didn’t let it affect him negatively. He acted like, a week later, you wouldn’t know what he was going through.
HPW: He seems very close to his mom. He said her mantra to him is, ‘Stay away from the girls.’
Carvalho: I think she just wants the best for him and doesn’t want him to be distracted with girl drama. He’s actually been real good. We have kids who will lie about not coming to practice, especially in January, February, March, when we do the hills, the running. It’s not fun, and they’ll find every excuse not to be there. A lot of times, it’s a girl. Deacon is there all the time. He puts in the work and has a good head on his shoulders.
HPW: The difference between preseason, with the 20 or so academically ineligible players, and now is a major contrast.
Carvalho: Just not having everybody there, that was the frustrating part. Al gets hurt. The next guy who steps in was Jayven Reyes, he gets hurt. Now we’re putting in a running back who plays both ways, Deacon. We have to be strategic and not wear him out.
HPW: Going back to the years when Sean Saturnio (now at Army) was head coach, Waipahu has always been a run-first team. Then in 2016 and ’17, more balance. (Note: This year, Waipahu has passed the ball 262 times and run 432 times, a run-pass ratio of 62 percent run, 38 percent pass.)
Carvalho: We want to establish the run, that’s what we’ve always been about.
HPW: Your first three seasons, AP was almost non-existent. Then you had a lot of concerns because a lot of guys didn’t take care of their academics in the fourth quarter (spring).
Carvalho: We had disciplinary issues — academics and team rules. Really, we’ve never had the full team until we played Leilehua. It was amazing to see what they could do when they all played together. They really started to buy in, that Kailua week. After the Moanalua loss, they realized, maybe coach is right. We got to put things together. We started seeing the change that Kailua week, then Leilehua.
HPW: So the playoff game with Leilehua, a team that beat Waipahu by 30 earlier, is a 29-5 Waipahu victory. Then 32-3 over Castle for the title. The team is playing its best football now.
Carvalho: We’re peaking at the right time, which is good. I just hope we can ride it on to the state championship.
HPW: Going back to the ‘Iolani game in August, I remember you were concerned about the academic casualties and lack of depth in the secondary.
Carvalho: It was a lot of defense, some offense, too. We had key guys on the defensive side that weren’t playing, and that really affected us. This goes for a lot of the teams in our division, our first 11 is great, and then the drop-off is big. It’s hard to fill that void.
HPW: Getting the terminology and understanding of defensive and offensive concepts, it’s a major plus for the ILH schools since they have intermediate programs. And there are OIA teams like Mililani, Kahuku and Kapolei that have strong JPS or Big Boys programs. What’s the situation in Waipahu since you don’t coach the youth program anymore?
Carvalho: We still have a few teams in the community that are feeders and I meet with them as much as I can, but having my touch on it, the results were a lot better. Back then, when they come and play for (the high school), the verbiage, the terminology is all the same.
HPW: You mentioned earlier how the dedicated Marauders run the hills and do all the conditioning starting in January. That doesn’t happen at every school.
Carvalho: What’s good is that we’re seeing it kind of work. The kids are really buying in. We’re seeing the result of it. The way we work and practice, everything we’re implementing pays off when we’re winning games. I’ve talked to coaches who say kids don’t believe in it, but seeing the result of it, now they’re going to buy in.
HPW: One of the most consistent elements I’ve seen by Waipahu is the daily honor after practice, the championship belt for the player who did the best job that day. That belt is outlandishly awesome.
Carvalho: That championship belt was $500. I was sitting at my desk. It’s a great idea. I told my coaches, we should do it. Then they see it’s $500, and they said, ‘It’s up to you.’
HPW: Understandable. A coach’s wages are nothing or close to it.
Carvalho: I did that belt in the youth league and I bought the cheap one because it’s (younger) kids, so I got the cheap one at Walmart for $20 and it worked. But when I came up with the idea again at the high school, we picked up the tempo at practice, performances are better, but these kids can’t have the small toy belt. I said, we’ve got to go big. So they take it home overnight, then they bring it to school the next day. Then they return it to the locker room.
HPW: Has anyone won the belt more than once?
Carvalho: The first year, AJ Contado won it three or four days in a row. He just had a great week of practice.
HPW: Who’s won it the most?
Carvalho: The one who won it the most was Ezekiel Kapanui-Reyes. He won it about 15 times. After all these years, and how long it’s lasted, what it meant to the program these last three years, being in three state playoff tournaments, it shows that it works.
HPW: I asked Deacon about the stickers on his helmet. They’re so awesome, I love the pirate guy and metallic gold WM. I asked him what’s the most stickers he’s gotten after a game and he said 20. Aiea game.
Carvalho: The player of game gets five. Against Aiea, Deacon got 20. It’s just different goals we set for every week, every game. It could be 100 yards, 150 two stickers, 200 three, scoring TDs.
HPW: The uniforms are great, too.
Carvalho: I was a little worried when I chose the uniforms. Waipahu has a real proud alumni and went from blue and yellow to (navy) blue and gold. I was hoping our alumni would be OK with this for the next three, four years. I’m glad everyone loved it.
HPW: What’s the personality of this year’s team, being younger?
Carvalho: The fact that they like to have fun and really enjoy just playing the game, it shows in the championship game. They’re having the time of their lives. At the end of the day, you stress out with game planning, all the strategies, and when they execute and have fun, that’s a good thing to see.
HPW: Let’s look at the game. Instead of a hot afternoon kickoff on grass at ‘Iolani like last time, this one is at Waipahu, a night game on synthetic turf. How much difference will it make?
Carvalho: Honestly, I think our turf is better than Aloha Stadium. The facility is amazing.
HPW: What are your biggest concerns about ‘Iolani?
Carvalho: What concerns me most about them is they run a very different defense. It’s not your typical four-man front, it’s a three-man but they run it almost like a 5-man, LBs playing in the gap between the end and the nose, a lot of looping. You have to treat it like a 5-man front. Nobody runs it like that.
HPW: So replicating that at practice with your scout team, not easy.
Carvalho: Teaching the backups how to do it is more difficult. Teaching our backups (in the previous matchup) was difficult. I think going in, gameplan wise, we have a better gameplay this time. Watching the film, we left a lot of guys unblocked. Alfred was getting hit in the backfield almost every play.
HPW: Final question. Someone mentioned recently that at the rate Waipahu is going, moving up to the Open Division is just a matter of time.
Carvalho: I think we need at least two, three more years just to get our feet under us. We still need more interest from the student body. It’s growing as we’re more successful, but it’s still not to where the Open teams are.
HPW: It starts with the feeder programs and the JV. How many players were out there this year?
Carvalho: Our JV had 70 players.