Most football teams have off years. Kahuku, usually, is not one of them.
But this year, despite the fact that the Red Raiders made the final four of the Open Division, will go down as an off year. They finished 7-5 and ended it by getting beaten by rival Saint Louis 49-22 in the Open Division semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships on Friday at Aloha Stadium.
The future is bright on the North Shore, though. When is it not?
First of all, even though the fans didn’t come out in droves for the semifinal matchup, the many who showed were seen tomahawk-chopping loudly when Kahuku scored a touchdown in the final minute.
Secondly, that touchdown drive was led by a freshman — quarterback Jason Mariteragi, who is listed as being 120 pounds on a 5-foot-8 frame.
Another good sign for the future was junior receiver Mason Paulo, who elevated above a defender to catch a fade pass from Mariteragi for the 2-point conversion. Senior Toalei Lefau was the one who bulled his way for a 5-yard TD on a sweep left.
And that’s not all. There are a ton of sophomores and juniors on the team who coach Sterling Carvalho expects to be a big part of next year’s team.
One of those sophomores who you can expect to take on stud status in coming years is defensive lineman Zion Ah You.
Yes, if you are wondering, he is the grandson of former BYU and Canadian Football League star/hero Junior Ah You — and the brother of Miki Ah You, the hard-hitting Kahuku senior linebacker who suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the campaign.
Against Saint Louis, Zion Ah You had a sack among his 2.5 tackles for loss. Like Junior and Miki before him, he’s an in-your-face kind of defender.
The injury to Miki Ah You, who is committed to the University of Washington, was a big blow to the Red Raiders. He was the unquestioned leader of not just the defense, but the whole team.
The Red Raiders were bogged down by other injuries this season, and to his credit, Carvalho never complained about it or offered it up as an excuse.
One of those players out for a long stretch — offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi — came back late in the season and was out there in the finale. Two standouts at defensive back — Kaonohi Kaniho and Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu — were hurt and did not play against the Crusaders.
Linebacker Aaron Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Alex’s brother, had a sack among his four tackles against the Crusaders. He’s already thinking about next year.
“It was a tough season,” he said. “We came out slow and never finished hard like we wanted to. Next season, most definitely, we’re coming out with that ring. Saint Louis is a good team, but we made a lot of mistakes. We’ve gotta fix that for next season.”
Vimahi, who is 6 feet 5 and 270 pounds, has 26 offers to play Division I college football and he has narrowed that down to his top eight.
“The season for us was a lot of ups and downs, with some of the injuries and some of the games in big-time situations,” Vimahi said. “And this game being our last and my last in general as a senior, it hurts, but we’ll take this experience and learn from it.
“For me, I’ll just prepare for the next level and they’ll just get back to the drawing board. Every year, we just reload. We always seem to make it to states. It’s a reflection of the community and how we reload.
“Disappointing is one word you could use. We didn’t finish how we wanted to, but the underclassmen will be seniors next year. They’ll learn from this and just get better.”
The biggest highlight of the night for the fourth-ranked Red Raiders was senior Tevita Faleta‘s 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
There are probably many Kahuku fans wondering how much better the team would have been if they had junior Sol-Jay Maiava at quarterback. After leading the Red Raiders to the state championship game in his first two seasons, Maiava transferred to St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., where he has helped that team to a No. 14 ranking in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
Carvalho, like every other Kahuku coach in the last handful of years, is probably wondering about the status of his job. The school has changed head coaches often, and winning games doesn’t seem to help them keep it. It was Reggie Torres at the helm in 2013, Lee Leslie in 2014, Vavae Tata in 2015 and 2016, and Makoa Freitas in 2017.
This is what Carvalho had to say after the loss to the Crusaders: “We had a good season. I’m proud of our boys no matter what. They fought through injuries, adversities. They were resilient and stayed together as a team to finish the season. We’ll be back. We’ll be back. We’ll rebuild like we always do. We have a lot of sophomores and juniors coming back, so the future looks bright.”