Now into his sixth year as head coach, Robin Kami has earned a reputation for efficiency.
Pearl City has qualified for the post-season in each of his six seasons, including this fall. Entering their showdown with Kaimuki on Saturday, the Chargers have clinched third place and could create a big purple mess with a win. Pearl City is 5-1, and would be in a three-way tie with Kaimuki and Roosevelt with a victory over a talented Kaimuki squad that is unbeaten in OIA D-II play.
Kami’s teams have always prided themselves on defense and common sense. They’ve been able to run and throw the ball, but always with the team’s priorities first. That’s why the Chargers are more apt to eke out close wins than get into high-scoring shootouts. That’s probably also why Jordan Ta‘amu was similar in his efficiency as a quarterback to someone like Marcus Mariota of Saint Louis. Both were long, lean playmakers who took care of the ball first, and helped their defensive units get rest on the sideline rather than take high-risk chances.
Kami’s teams are 36-23, a .610 winning percentage. This year’s team has overachieved to an extent and is 3-0 in games decided by seven points or less. They squeezed out narrow wins over Waialua (14-12) and Kaiser (15-12). Two weeks ago, Pearl City got past Pac-Five, 19-13.
Coach Kami chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday.
HPW: The playoff chase in OIA D-II is always dramatic. What’s the scenario if Pearl City wins?
Kami: We’re in. I know Kaiser is No. 4 right now. Kaimuki is No. 1. Roosevelt is No. 2 because they have the tiebreaker over us. If we win (against Kaimuki), there’s a three-way. It would come down to a coin flip. If we lose, we would play Roosevelt next week.
HPW: How is the team doing after losing to Roosevelt last week?
Kami: We feel good. We’re going there trying to be competitive. Homecoming, senior game, our kids took it hard. We told them, in 24 hours, we need to wash it down and move on to the next game. The kids are upbeat and back to where they were. Losing is a lesson to be learned. The bottom line is we’re in the playoffs. Winning helps with the seeding.
HPW: What was the process like? Did you guys take a look at the video right away or let it sit for the weekend?
Kami: We came back, watched the film. The bottom line is Roosevelt came to play, they wanted it more and executed.
HPW: Coach Kui (Kahooilihala) has established a strong ground game there.
Kami: Roosevelt runs the option so you have to play assignment ball. They run that option to perfection. From all different kinds of formations.
HPW: What’s it like scouting Kaimuki? They’ve run the ball, and they’ve got some good, big linemen.
Kami: They do both now. At the beginning, they were running a lot, now they pass a lot. Their quarterback (Jonah Fa‘asoa) is a good player and now he leads the division in passing. They’re running a more complex offense. They run to either side. Their O-line and D-line are big, physical and fast. They run well for their size.
HPW: Your offense has been balanced and really, it’s running back and quarterback by committee. I’m guessing you’d love to go sideline to sideline and tire out Kaimuki’s two-way players by the second half.
Kami: We need to establish some blocking. Hopefully, they run out of gas.
HPW: How has the O-line been? Who are the starters?
Kami: At LT, we have Donovan Lee (6-0, 240). LG, Sean Jackson (6-0, 250). Center is Jared Yamabayashi (5-7, 250). The right guard is Donovan Kamaka (6-0, 240) and right tackle is Matthew Araki (5-8, 190).
HPW: You’ve got Christian Tielu and Makana Canyon at QB. The run-pass play ratio is almost exactly half and half.
Kami: We try to be balanced. We try to be 50-50, run and pass. We’re a simple offense. We’re just trying to be the best defense as an offense, hold on to the ball the best we can.
HPW: What grades would you give to your offense, defense and special teams.
Kami: Offense is coming along. That’s a C-plus. Special teams is a B and defense is an A.
HPW: Who are your defensive starters?
Kami: At DE, we have Tristen McKinney (5-9, 180) and Shane Barry (5-7, 160). At tackle, we have Adonis Aufaga (5-9, 190) and Sione Siulangapo (5-8, 180). Our linebackers, Tyler Fernandez (5-9, 165) with Cody Kikuyama (5-9, 160) and Aidan Fernandes (5-11, 180).
HPW: I remember Kikuyama as a safety who roamed everywhere last year. How big is he?
Kami: He’s not heavy, but he hits like he’s 200 pounds. He’s like the older brothers that we had. We use him as a hybrid.
HPW: Who starts in the secondary?
Kami: At corner, we have RJ (Kami, 6-2, 160) and Gabriel Kuheana (5-7, 165). Safeties are Justin Pfau (6-2, 165) and Shayden McMoore (5-11, 170).
HPW: You and your staff have always found ways to defend even if you don’t have a lot of size.
Kami: Oh yeah, we’re undersized. Real bad.
HPW: So how do you do it? Making the playoffs every year without major size and depth.
Kami: It’s the philosophy and the kids believing in what we do. Since we don’t have size, we try to depend on the speed, the technique, the keys and we try to disguise the defense so the offense has a hard time.
HPW: Coming from the youth programs, you’ve always had a consistency in the spirit of the team every year. Leaders like Jordan Ta‘amu and Zion Tupuola-Fetui. How do you keep everything cohesive and unified with the players and parents?
Kami: I believe you have to be just straight up and communicate with them. They have to understand the team rules and team goals. I try to have the kids be straightforward with the parents.