Q&A: Moanalua coach Savaii Eselu ready for Damien

Savai’i Eselu made quite a mark during his time as Moanalua football coach. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

When the 2018 football season neared its close, Savaii Eselu was already taking a peek to the future.

Nick Au, the latest passing phenom in Moanalua’s aerial fireworks show, was a senior. Who will step up, fill in, take the controls of one of the most pass-heavy offenses in state history? Eselu doesn’t settle with one possibility. He even hinted that one of his running backs could convert to a spread, RPO-heavy package.

This year, Moanalua is a stunning 8-0, ranked No. 6 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. What Eselu’s team has in ’19 is a pack of defensive hounds, what he and at least one other head coach consider the best cornerback combination in the state. What he didn’t expect was the arrival of RJ Javar, a transfer from Mililani who has played elite-level football. Javar has 2,346 yards and 23 TDs with just eight picks in a whopping 277 attempts. That’s 34.6 pass attempts per game in a tough OIA Division I — where five teams have been ranked in the Top 10. It’s not quite as voluminous as Au’s 36.9 attempts per game last year. Unlike Au (no rushing TDs, Javar is more effective on the ground with three rushing TDs.

With Damien waiting in the wings this weekend, Eselu chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Tuesday.

HPW: The 2018 season was similar to this one, a 9-0 regular season, then a first-round playoff loss to Castle.

Eselu: We’re using the state tournament from last year as motivation. We’re leaving no stone unturned.

HPW: At this time of year, it’s not too surprising to see teams unveil more trickery. I’ve seen some backward-pass touchdown plays recently.

Eselu: We’re making sure there’s nothing surprising. Coach (Eddie) Klaneski (of Damien) does a stolid job with their 11 personnel that you rarely see in Hawaii. We need to nullify their tight end and the extra back in the box when they do that split-back look. It’s very difficult to stop. They got the hogs up front and they’re solid.

HPW: Coach Eddie has a lot of respect for your cornerbacks. He said they’re the best combo in the state.

Eselu: I do agree. Aukai Grace, Ezra’s little brother, and Rashod Tanner.

HPW: What year are they in?

Eselu: They’re both seniors. We ask so much of them to cover and be able to fill up the gaps, sometimes they arrive a little late, so we’re shoring up a lot of things.

HPW: Jarvis Natividad returned a kickoff for a touchdown recently on top of all the big catches he’s made, even with the Damien backup quarterback (Logan Lacio) in the past two games.

Eselu: That guy is a game-changer for sure, always got to keep account of him. If they use any exotics on him, we have to be ready.

HPW: Some teams want to save their best gadget play or two-point play for the third overtime of the state championship game. They might not have a lot of those in the playbook.

Eselu: We don’t save it, if the opportunity presents itself, we use our trick plays. We have to use what we have to win. If the criteria fits, we should run it. We did it last year.

HPW: It makes sense if you and your staff have a well of ideas and plays you’ve created or borrowed. It kind of multiplies if you enjoy the creativity. The other aspect of this game is the standings. In theory, Moanalua doesn’t have to show anything, doesn’t have to play starters, since the game doesn’t count and you already have OIA Division I locked up. It means everything to Damien. They need a win to still have a shot at the state tournament. They can’t afford a loss unless ‘Iolani loses at Castle.

Eselu: We’re going to attack them. Our thing is to always play competitively and play fast. It’s great to play an awesome team with a coach like him. The stakes are super high for them.

HPW: RJ Javar. This is becoming like the Oklahoma of the OIA, where talented quarterbacks can find a home. He can play at the next level. How are his grades and test scores?

Eselu: Everything is spot on academically, so I don’t know why he isn’t getting more interest. (Jayden) de Laura (of Saint Louis) is awesome, but my guy is leading in everything.

HPW: How tall is he?

Eselu: He’s 5-10, 5-11.

HPW: Is he a better fit in a pure four-wide offense, or RPO?

Eselu: We rarely run any RPO. It’s pure Air Raid. He could crack a FBS (program). He likes the military academies. He’s right up their alley with his body type and speed.

HPW: Where do you see Aukai and Rashod as college prospects?

Eselu: Aukai is definitely FBS as a corner. Rashad could crack a FBS.

HPW: They could get more opportunities from the mid-majors then.

Eselu: Yeah, at least mid-major, all three of them. Nothing lower than I-AA (FCS) for sure.

HPW: It’s been a lot of eye-opening football since the interleague play began. Division I has been really interesting with five teams in the Top 10 this season.

Eselu: The top tier of our level can compete with the bottom level of Open. We can have an argument with where everyone should be at. Throw in Leilehua, Moanalua (to Open).


  1. Lou October 10, 2019 2:25 pm

    Did Javar just wanted show up, or did York and Eselu do a swap for Micah Kim? Also receiver York another Mililani senior turn up their senior year? No reporters ask these questions like it’s a no no.

  2. Lou October 10, 2019 2:29 pm

    Also the OPEN was created to “better” the teams. So why not Moanalua and Leileihua move up? They will get better. Teams like Lahainaluna in D2 on Maui completely dominates D1 teams on Maui. Sandbag.

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