One game, 19 future FBS players.
No football program matches Saint Louis this year, but Mililani is matched by almost no one else. The Trojans have seven players with FBS-level offers and/or commitments so far.
Mililani was a winning program with a solid tradition. Rod York became head coach a decade ago and went into lab mode. He tested. He tweaked. He refined. The establishment of a JPS program was also key, and now players arrive at the high school with the fundamentals, the terminology, the understanding of what is expected.
By being willing to fail, York has achieved something that Hawaii football programs have long tinkered in. He worked with what works, tried new wrinkles. It is how a former college defensive tackle became a student, then master, of offensive execution. The Trojans have sent two quarterbacks, McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel, to FBS football powerhouse UCF in the past five years.
Mililani is in position atop the OIA Open Division standings (6-1, 4-0 league) to take some weight off the gas pedal in Friday’s interleague matchup with unbeaten, nationally-ranked Saint Louis. The game won’t count in the OIA standings. Some Mililani players are dinged up after the loss to No. 2 St. John Bosco (Calif.). York expects everyone to play.
Coach York chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Tuesday.
HPW: So how’s life, Coach? Are you getting proper sleep or are you mired in the grind as usual?
York: Aah, I get sleep. Wherever I am when I get sleepy, that’s when I sleep.
HPW: How is everyone health-wise?
York: We have some bumps and bruises, but we’re healthy.
HPW: Saint Louis has been excellent offensively, then Punahou came along and recovered four fumbles.
York: We’re always trying to do that, every week, get turnovers. Rip the ball out. When the first guy is on (the ballcarrier), the running back usually latches on the ball and the second guy tries to pull it out. We work on it at practice.
HPW: I don’t think we did well at all. They put up 40-something points. Part of that is due to our offense. We gave up 14 points early. We can’t give a good team like Bosco or Saint Louis extra possessions or pix-sixes with turnovers. Putting our defense in a bad position.
HPW: I know Bosco is great, but through one half, Mililani’s defense limited them to 39 yards on 15 carries. Until they broke a long run late in the game, Bosco averaged roughly 3 yards per carry.
York: Yeah, our defense did OK, but they didn’t do OK. We expect three and outs. We can always do better, so there’s always things we can do better as a team. That was a good thing about playing Bosco.
HPW: Is there already a nonconference schedule for Mililani next year?
York: We’re still working on it. We’re trying to play (Bishop) Gorman at Gorman, Aug. 21. It’s close to final. We just need to sign the papers.
HPW: That will be a major challenge. Gorman is a little bit young this year, and you have a lot of talented juniors who will be back. Saint Louis trailing Punahou last week into the third quarter, that had to be a boost for your guys to see.
York: We always feel like we can be there. We can’t make mistakes at certain times. We’ve definitely got to play a perfect game. It’s not going to happen if we don’t play the perfect game. At the same time, we can’t give them turnovers.
HPW: If I’m facing Saint Louis, I want to move the chains and control the clock, keep that offense on the sideline. Mililani has shown that willingness to do it using Malosi Sam and Jasiah (Kena) Alcover.
York: “If we get first downs, get some stops, get some turnovers, we still definitely got to play our A-game and not spot them points. It just seems like the third quarter for us, we’re really going to pay attention in the third. They seem to bust open for some reason. Our offense has just got to be consistent.
HPW: The Saint Louis defensive line is not as large as last year, but ultra quick. They get penetration.
York: They’re a different type of team. Bosco is ranked No. 2 and these guys are No. 7. That’s not far off. The same qualities as a Bosco. Strong and quick and smart and well coached. That’s why I say we’ve got to play our A-game.
HPW: Who do you feel like is the most underrated?
York: Their two outside linebackers (Nick Herbig, Jordan Botelho) did well. Stanley (McKenzie, defensive lineman) wows me because of what he does at nose guard. He’s not fancy, but he’s the key to that defense, plugs everything. You’ve got to double him, and the other DT is explosive, great get-off, and the defensive ends, they’re all D-I (college) guys.
(Kamo‘i) Latu is the perfect safety in my eyes. Comes downhill and crunches anybody who is close. His close and his instincts are superb, not just a hard hitter.
HPW: Actually, I meant, which of Mililani’s guys are most underrated. Sorry about that.
York: Oh, well, we just expect to play better, coach better, play better. The two turnovers right off the bat really (angered me) and that’s on me. I got home and I thought, how can we improve and get better?
HPW: I don’t know many coaches who would schedule Bosco in the middle of the season. I’m glad you did, though. It’s incredible for fans.
York: That’s what I love about this format. It’s more fun. Every week has a tough game, but I love it. I want to play teams that could smash us 50-0. It’s hard to get a win in this league. We’ve been squeaking by. Barely beat Campbell at Campbell. Kahuku was still fresh and I’m sure they’re a different team now. Still got Punahou after this. We played Bosco, we played Liberty. It’s almost like an NFL schedule, every team is good.
HPW: There’s nothing to gain by scheduling a game that would be an easy win, except everyone would play lots of snaps.
York: College coaches want to know, can you send me your Bosco film, your Liberty film? A lot of kids send highlights, but the coaches want to see more. Every coach is on HUDL.
HPW: I remember some years back thinking, the OIA has implemented a strict transfer rule within the league. The teams and communities that already have strong feeder programs are in position to compete at the highest level. You guys were already there with a JPS team. To compete with the ILH, which already has intermediate programs, that’s what it takes from everyone else.
York: There’s so much training opportunities with coaches like Kenny Patton, the clinics. The JPS league has the best tackle football players. They improve the kids at an earlier age so the high school has improved so much, and now kids are up and moving to D.C., Virginia, Cali and Las Vegas, and not only that the cost of living is cheaper too. The rules are different too where you can be a little bit older (on the mainland). It’s definitely different from back in the day.
HPW: That’s another big factor, too, having easier access to camps on the mainland. Cost is a huge factor.
York: Even the flag leagues, everything is about getting a full ride, scholarships. (University of) Hawaii football gives out 25 scholarship for D1. Girls, they pay all this money for soccer and training and club soccer, they’d rather play for club in girls and boys, and a lot of them get only partial scholarships. Football, you get full scholarships.
HPW: It’s working the other way, too, for local kids who stay here, and pick and choose their camps. Your team has a bunch of players with D-I offers. Saint Louis has a dozen at this point.
York: Last year, (defensive tackle) Gino Quinones has no scholarships, goes on a trip with his D-line and he’s walking next to Tui (Tuitele), and the USC coach says, “Who’s that kid walking next to Tui,” and that’s how he got his scholarship. Families are always seeking the best opportunities.