Kapaa football has come a long way.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Warriors struggled on the gridiron. Then Kelii Morgado, the former Kauai coach who guided the Red Raiders to KIF titles, turned the Kapaa program around. In recent years, it’s Philip Rapozo at the wheel, and the Warriors have emphasized more of a ground-and-pound style that has proved effective.
Kapaa (6-2) will host OIA runner-up Kaimuki on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II State Championships.
Rapozo chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Thursday.
HPW: My apologies, Coach. I had to grab something for breakfast. I’m having an egg sandwich.
Rapozo: I tried being vegan, but that didn’t last.
HPW: Vegan is so extreme for me.
Rapozo: They try to imitate meat. They call it tofu katsu. But you can’t mimic a double cheeseburger.
HPW: What did you have for breakfast?
Rapozo: I had coffee and half of a muffin. I try to get out to the shop, drink my coffee and usually wait until lunch (to eat).
HPW: A lot of people seem to do that. I guess it saves time instead of eating.
Rapozo: And you slow down off the bat.
HPW: I remember you saying you’re a mechanic, I think.
Rapozo: Yeah, auto mechanic.
HPW: You have a shop.
Rapozo: Rapozo’s Auto Body. My dad used to do it part-time. I was the one who opened it full time. My dad used to work in the plantation. He was a supervisor.
HPW: So cars were his hobby.
Rapozo: It was side money, paint, rust repair. Today, no mo’ money in that. Collision is the way to go. Rust, rust will come back. You fix the rust, one year later, he’s calling back again. I’d rather do repairs and replace.
HPW: OK, let’s talk about the season. Kapaa opened with the two-time defending state champs, Lahainaluna, lost 30-10. You wanted that early test.
Rapozo: We learned that we had to fix our scheme. There’s so much little things. Tackling. Get back to the basics, the fundamentals of the game. As coaches, we had to assess our things and make adjustments, which we started to do.
HPW: Then it’s a trip to Konawaena, and you guys win 37-0. Konawaena is young this year, but still talented, well coached. Big turnaround for Kapaa. Was it good to get off island and have a narrow focus?
Rapozo: Trips are always a good thing. It’s more than just going to play. You hang out, spend more time together. We do camp (on campus) over the weekend, but it’s a little bit different. We could see that the stuff we worked on after Lahaina in a short week, we’re on the right path now.
HPW: It’s a long stretch until the KIF regular season.
Rapozo: Then we come home we sit for over three weeks. You’re excited to play. The hurricane screwed up everything. No excuse, we still got to play.
HPW: And it’s a loss to Kauai.
Rapozo: We went into the Kauai game thinking, we’ll just throw the ball. We saw their game against Maui. We thought we could get a lot done throwing the ball. It didn’t work out. The second half, we said, we’ll pound the ball. We drive all the way to the 1-yard line and we fumble. They drive and score on fourth down.
It’s a wake-up call. We panic, try to throw the ball instead of running. They keep our defense on the field. We learned from that. The boys, the coaches, we already know what we did wrong. The players took responsibility on their side. They had a players meeting without us knowing. Right there was a turning point. As coaches, we knew we were a lot better than we showed against Kauai.
When players hold themselves accountable and coaches hold themselves accountable, everyone put their heads down and work. From that day on, work, work, work. Like this week, nobody’s talking about championships and Aloha Stadium. All they’re talking about is what do we have to do to win this game. We can’t control what they do. We control the way we can play.
HPW: Kapaa runs the table in the KIF after the loss. Dominance. Your team gave up just six points in the next four games. What changed after that loss?
Rapozo: The things that we changed after the Kauai High loss, every week is pretty much the same as the goals. Not we’ve got to win this week, we’ve got to practice hard today. Then after practice, tomorrow’s got to be better than today. Before you know it, the week went by fast, come out fast and go in the game. Just like the headlights of the car, you can’t see two miles ahead of you. Just keep going and the light will show you what’s ahead. I’ve seen it, we get better every day. In all the years I’ve been around football, I’ve never seen it like this.. The first year when Morgado took over, I seen that. It was a new system, it was hard. Now we’re fixing things, do some adjustments with practice and different philosophies and conditioning. Other than that, it’s steady with what we do.
HPW: That defensive run, though, that’s a bunch of zeroes.
Rapozo: Defensively, we start five, six sophomores.
HPW: Running the ball, who’s your lead RB?
Rapozo: Ryno Banasihan. He was hurt in the first play of the Konawaena game, a high ankle sprain. First game against Kauai, we didn’t have him. He came back about 70 percent in the third (KIF) game. He leads the league in rushing.
HPW: Who, even though he missed two games. When I think of KIF greats at running back, I remember Tyler Shigemoto of Kauai. Jordan Dizon of Waimea. You’ve had a chance to watch Kaimuki. What do you think?
Rapozo: The size, you could really see how big they are, and they got better from the first time I saw them on TV. That’s coaching. Kids, you’ve got to guide them. Kaimuki is well coached. They kind of remind me of the Radford team in 2015. Big, physical and athletic, too.
HPW: What’s your roster size like? Having depth on defense against their two-way ironmen is a big factor if you have numbers.
Rapozo: I think we have the numbers, 56 guys, so we have depth. We’re willing to do whatever it takes. If it’s ground and pound, we’ll be very disciplined defensively. Offensively, we can’t expect to run right through them like the KIF, but we can’t abandon the run, either. We’re not going to throw the ball a lot either, that’s not our game.
HPW: It’s so crucial to have good coordinators with all the preparation that goes into games, especially in states.
Rapozo: Everybody thinks the head coach is the guy, but the assistants are so important. The coordinators come up with the scheme, and they get the guys under them working. We get the credit and the blame, just like a QB, but it’s more the guys you surround yourself with. You’ve got to trust them. That’s why we have success at Kapaa. When I put my guys in position, I trust them. They know better at what they’re doing than I do. My defensive coordinator is better than me at defense and my offensive coordinator is better than me at offense, and I’m not ashamed of that.
If I was trying to run everything as a head coach, that’s too much on my plate. It’s stressing you out. Defense, offense, special teams, manage the team, manage parents, administration. Game plan. Bad week with something, everything falls apart. The best thing, just like running a business. Owner, CEO, GM, your supervisors. That’s how I look at it. The school is a business. The principal is the CEO.. I’m a manager. Coordinators are supervisors. Then you don’t get ahead of yourself. We’re all there for the same reason. We want to win, but we want to value academics, learn life lessons.
HPW: How many did you have on JV?
Rapozo: JV, 45. The 56 on varsity, I brought up nine. We started out in the 50s, but that always dwindles in the spring.
HPW: Who has been the most consistent and reliable on defense?
Rapozo: Raffy Pereno.
HPW: He’s 5-6, 175. He must be powerful being that compact.
Rapozo: We’ve never had a backer at that size. Honestly, he’s the smallest, shortest ‘backer since Morgado’s days. We always looked for the tall, athletic type, and I learned that from Morgado. But this guy played ‘backer all through youth football and JV. Last year we were small at backer. This year, Raffy stepped up his game, matured and playing lights out. I’m proud of the guy. He grew up overnight. I’m excited for him.
HPW: What or who is the most underrated in the program?
Rapozo: This whole team might be underrated. This team, we’re not about stars, we got a lot of guys who stand out. The way they carry themselves. Jai Alapai, lights out too. He’s a two-way player, CB and WR. We have so much depth at CB and WR, we don’t have to play him every play on both sides. He can cover and play the run. It depends on who we play.
HPW: So you’ve got enough depth to feel comfortable, but some teams prefer to use their best athletes on special teams.
Rapozo: Special teams, we play our best players. We have kids that could be starting, got beat out, so they play special teams.
HPW: I read that one of your WRs, Lanakila Pagtolingan, will play in the Blue-Grey All-American game.
Rapozo: Lanakila might have the best hands on the team. He runs great routes.
HPW: Thank you, Coach. I don’t know if I could go vegan for that long.
Rapozo: That’s done. I don’t know how I did seven weeks.
HPW: Maybe if Kapaa wins the title, you do it again.
Rapozo: We win the states, I’ll let them do anything they want to me.