Kahuku football coach Makoa Freitas is busy in the morning, busy in the afternoon, busy at night. He does all he can, and that means time is precious.
Two days before the showdown — the rematch — with defending state champion Saint Louis, he chatted with Hawaii Prep World about being a first-year head coach facing veteran Cal Lee and Saint Louis, the evolution of Kahuku’s offense and more.
HPW: Before I forget to ask, how is Sol-Jay Maiava? I know he’s playing through an injury.
Freitas: Sol’s been practicing all week.
HPW: He’s so, so good in a two-minute drill type of situation. There’s something special there. Coach, please forgive me if I pepper an oddball fan nerd kind of question occasionally. But 24 pass attempts in the first half against Kapolei. Thirty-seven passes last week against Waianae. Even without those, the evolution of Kahuku’s passing game has been special to witness. But is the day coming when Sol-Jay is operating at 2-minute, hurry-up pace for an entire game? Or is that just too tiring for O-linemen, not enough rest time for the defense?
Freitas: This is our first year of us integrating this offense. As the offense grows, we’ll be able to do more things. Its a brand-new offense, even our defense is brand new. We’ve come a long way. It’s Sola (Soliai)’s defense and the kids have adjusted to both.
HPW: Sounds like a definite… maybe. I wonder, if in a time-travel universe, you had been coaching at Kahuku since the 1970s, would you have been able to install and maintain this passing-game component?
Freitas: If you can run most of the time, then go ahead. Every year’s going to be different. If you can create a program, like we’ve been lucky to have our Big Boyz and Pop Warner programs, some years you have a great quarterback and some years you don’t. We’re lucky to have one this year.
HPW: With the heavy running emphasis of the past two seasons, is it even remotely possible that if a commitment to a passing game hadn’t been made this year, that Sol-Jay might have considered transferring out?
Freitas: I don’t think that’s anything he would say, but if that’s how he would have felt, then that would be dumb on my part because I’m not utilizing the weapons I have. As a coach, you’ve got to look at your team and see what we can do best. The players have an open mind to understand it, and sometimes the coach has to have an open mind, too.
HPW: It’s hard to argue against the success of Kahuku football the past two years with that smashmouth offense, winning one state title and reaching the final last season. The team in 2015, they had injuries at QB, and Kesi Ah-Hoy was phenomenal as a wildcat QB.
Freitas: In 2015, we had Kesi, a good O-line. It all came together.
HPW: I might be the only person on earth who asks you about Wes (Alo-Maiava) weekly, but I’m still spellbound by what I saw in that scrimmage at Kamehameha three months ago. He hasn’t even been a pass catcher since returning from his injury recently, but if he’s healthy enough to do both roles again, that makes him a dangerous weapon.
Freitas: I can’t tell you how many carries they’re getting, but we try to utilize all our running backs. The hard part is we have to many good RBs, it’s hard to get them all on the field. It’s a good problem to have.
HPW: Enoch (Nawahine) has been banged up. He’s healthy?
Freitas: He should be OK.
HPW: I thought the passing game was coming along at a nice rate, gradual progress. And then Duke Heffernan has that clutch performance against Kapolei. He’s got that knack for getting open.
Freitas: He’s a good player, a good athlete. He tries his hardest and gives 100 percent effort every day. He loves football.
HPW: He’s also been a consistent PAT kicker. I wonder about Sekope Latu. Last year, Kahuku had three kickoff guys who could touchback the ball regularly, but the few times I’ve seen Sekope kick off this season, no touchbacks at the games I saw. Is that by design?
Freitas: There’s times when we want to kick it high or just squib it. If he can get it deep and we stop them at the 10, who knows?
HPW: I imagine Kahuku’s defense will stay basic against Saint Louis QB Chevan Cordeiro and not try too many cute things.
Freitas: The mentality is to go out there and compete. Saint Louis is a good team. Let’s compete and see how good they are.
HPW: But if anyone has to spy on Cordeiro, LB Miki Ah Hoy would be the guy.
Freitas: If we had to spy, but we’ll stick with our game plan.
HPW: How’s the intensity level at practice for the defense?
Freitas: I’m too busy coaching and yelling at our offense to know.
HPW: So many quality linebackers for both Kahuku and Saint Louis. Nalu (Emerson) had two picks last week. Do you consider him an outside linebacker or a hybrid?
Freitas: It just depends. Last year, Nalu would’ve played outside ‘backer.
HPW: I remember the Kawe Johnson years, where he and his DB teammates called themselves “Sharks”. They could rotate and switch positions instantly, like a full-court press on the football field. Such a luxury.
Freitas: Most of our linebackers and DBs, they’re young, juniors and sophomores. We can reload next year, not rebuild.
HPW: Kahuku special teams has been special for a long time.
Freitas: We take special teams seriously. Our starters are there. It’s a big aspect of the game.
HPW: I’m sure a lot of folks see this as a duel between head coaches, a first-year head coach and a longtime coach. How do you see it?
Freitas: I don’t think about it. Coach Cal has been there a long time. He has to be the winningest coach in the state, maybe in the nation. I don’t know anybody else who ran off 15 or 16 Prep Bowl and state-championship wins. I don’t think anybody else compares to Coach Cal. We’ll have our best 11 and he’ll have his best 11, and we’ll compete. I think we’ll be OK.
HPW: Last question, Kahuku brings the largest, loudest and most spirited hometown crowds to Aloha Stadium. How much of a factor are the fans?
Freitas: They make it an awesome experience. They’re the best fans in the state. I’ve been told by someone on the mainland that it’s the closest thing he’s seen to a college crowd at a high school game.