Shepherd Kekahuna didn’t know that a year had already passed since the darkest day of his football career.
On Oct. 19, 2018, Kekahuna was a junior at St. Francis when its season was called due to disqualification. It was discovered that the Saints, who were undefeated at the time, had used an ineligible player for part of the season.
One year to the date later, on Saturday night at Roosevelt, Kekahuna was the catalyst behind the Rough Riders’ 57-23 throttling of Waialua in the OIA Division II semifinals. Roosevelt (9-1) built a 20-0 lead after one quarter, thanks to two 3-yard rushing touchdowns and one 56-yard punt return for another, all courtesy of Kekahuna.
It was another performance to remember for the 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior.
“Just knowing that I came into a team where the bond is also close and everyone has the same mind-set of playing for family, it just gives me motivation to go forward,” Kekahuna said.
The win gives Roosevelt an automatic bid into the HHSAA Division II state tournament, regardless of if the Rough Riders beat Kaimuki (8-2) Saturday at Aloha Stadium. It will be Kekahuna’s first and only time playing in a state tournament.
St. Francis was riding high at 9-0 in 2018 before its season came to a sudden end. The school then closed at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.
“This is a big step. I never got to be in states because last year, we got disqualified. I was down because I knew we had a good team at that time. But that’s OK,” he said. “This year, it’s all about doing what I can to win states.”
Last season’s demise wasn’t as prominent in Kekahuna’s mind as much as playing for defensive backs Josh Maikui and Aalona Monteilh. Both were starters in this year’s Roosevelt secondary before suffering season-ending injuries.
“It was our time to step up today for Josh and Aalona. If we keep doing that, then we can win states. The coaches, they don’t give up on us. They just always keep pushing us. It’s always positive energy,” Kekahuna said. “We’re playing for our teammates, our coaches, our family and God and that’s it.”
Roosevelt coach Kui Kahooilihala had no idea he would have Kekahuna a year ago. But he’s definitely grateful he does now.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser featured Monteilh and Kekahuna on Oct. 15. After Saturday’s game, Kahooilihala brought up the impact the two have brought to the program.
“Oh man, (Kekahuna) and Aalona. Aalona got hurt. But those two guys, just their passion and work ethic during practice, during the week. You can tell that they’re passionate for this game,” he said. “They’re great leaders on the field. Shepherd’s IQ for the game of football, it’s just amazing. He’s really helped the program. It was a team effort, too. What Shepherd does, it’s a credit to everybody else around.”
Roosevelt’s offense was absolutely humming on Saturday night, carrying momentum over from last week’s 55-10 win over Nanakuli. Its output of 112 points over its last two games broke the record for most points scored in a two-game stretch for the Rough Riders. The previous record was 107 over consecutive games in 1999.
Defensively, Kahooilihala hopes the team can contain the potent Bulldogs attack when the two teams meet again.
“Kaimuki is an awesome team. Tough, very aggressive. They got some good athletes too,” he said. “Coach David Tautofi, he does a great job with the boys. Even with the numbers that they have, those guys come and bring it every week. It’s going to be tough for us.
“We gotta take care of what we can take care of on the defensive side. I think we match up well. It’s gonna be a tough game, we’re ready but we’ll have to prepare for Kaimuki.”
The Bulldogs got the better of the Rough Riders, 28-26, when the teams met on Sept. 20 at Skippa Diaz Stadium. Kaimuki also beat Roosevelt in the regular season last year, but fell to the Rough Riders in the OIA D-II championship game.
Kahooilihala certainly hopes history can repeat itself next weekend.
“For our kids, it’s a big game and atmosphere. The kids, we don’t worry about what’s around us or in front of us in the field,” he said. “It’s all about taking care of your business. They’re looking forward to going back there and I’m sure it’s going to be just all business.”