This is the bridge that crossed over any remaining barriers for Kahuku football.
The bridge remains open. Rebel Squad captured three more Pylon football titles this spring, including Mecca 2, extending a massive win streak dating back to the spring of 2021. The team defended its Hawaii National Guard tournament title, flew up to Utah to defend its Level Up crown, then arrived at Mecca 2 (Mesquite, Ariz.) prepared to another defense.
Rebel Squad arrived with a full roster, including 2021 All-State defensive player of the year Liona Lefau and offensive player of the year Kainoa “Kaikai” Carvalho. However, they were among the Rebels who suffered injuries on day one. It took the grit of a deep reserve group to lift Rebel Squad to the title. Five players did not play on that final day due to injuries or personal reasons.
One of the big contributors was Kapaa junior linebacker/running back Solomone Malafu. Scholarship offers are piling up for the multi-sport standout. The scholar-athlete remains busy when he isn’t training on the Garden Island. He played with Nakoa basketball club in the recent Jam On It basketball tournament in Honolulu over the weekend.
“When Liona went down, Mone stepped up,” coach Sola Soliai said.
On day one, Rebel Squad defeated Eforce Premier, 18-8; Trillion Boys, 12-0; then lost to to Triple Threat 23-20. Trillion Boys, according to coach Soliai, has Division I college players — all have offers but one — and is sponsored by NFL player AJ Green. Triple Threat is a tall, skilled team from Idaho.
In round two on day two, Rebel Squad blanked 208 Platinum (Silver) 28-0, then edged Triple Threat 21-20 to advance to the quarterfinals.
Rebel Squad ousted Trillion Boys, 20-6, and MVP Red, 31-24, in the semifinal round. That set up an all-Hawaii showdown in the title tilt. Rebel Squad prevailed 22-20.
“Two Hawaii teams in the championship. It came down to the last play, the two-point conversion. They would’ve tied it, but Shaun (Niu) knocked it down,” Soliai said.
The Squad also made unofficial visits to Utah, Utah State, BYU, Dixie State and UNLV.
“Kahuku alumni fed the team every day,” Soliai said.
Here’s a look at the Rebel Squad roster that has won seven Pylon tournaments — and two national titles — in seven tries. Coach Soliai provided his input.
Name (alphabetical order), position and grade
Kingsley Ah You, WR, So.
“He didn’t play Sunday, so we’re going to get those type of kids. He’s very humble, very quiet, very respectful. Nobody can match up with his speed. He was smoking guys left and right.”
Leonard Ah You, LB/WR, Jr.
“Leonard was dominating on both sides of the ball. He’s so tall, Toa just throws the ball up to him in the red zone and he he snatches the ball like a hawk. He’s unmatched down in the red zone. I’m pretty sure coach Sterl (Sterling Carvalho) will have something for him.”
Fale Atuaia, S, Fr.
“He’s the last, the youngest (of the family). We’re looking at him, to pull him up for (varsity) depth. He did really good when guys went down in the secondary. We asked him to do his job. He plays the hybrid safety. He’s a more athletic Manaia. He has that blue-collar mentality like Manaia (Atuaia), but he’s more athletic. Manaia played in the box and was more physical. Fale has played corner (in high school).”
Kaimana Carvalho, WR/DB, Fr.
“He’s Kaikai’s brother. He had a great tournament all around. We played a team that has all D-I offers. On offense, Mana smoked them from the get-go, scoring. They were pressing man and Mana shook ‘em on the line. That was just amazing.”
Kainoa Carvalho, WR, Jr.
“He didn’t play. He got injured at the Level Up tournament (in Utah). His ankle got tweaked so we didn’t want to risk it. He was cheering on his guys, supporting them. He had a lot of energy. He did a lot of coaching, helped a lot of guys on how to run their routes, sit down or find a window.”
Waika To‘a Carvalho, QB, Jr.
“He got better as the tournaments went on from Level Up. He doesn’t back down from any challenge. He had a great tournament. Knows where to put the ball, when to put touch on the ball, when to rifle it it.”
Brock Cravens Fonoimoana, S, Jr.
“He had a phenomenal tournament playing free safety. We play coverages we use in our season, one high, and he covers sideline to sideline and these quarterbacks are getting frustrated. Long and quick, most impressive thing is his instincts. He reminds me of Aaron Francisco. That’s how good he is. I played with Aaron since Pop Warner, and that’s the guy I compare him to. I haven’t told him that. Their mindset is the same. The athletic ability is the same. Everything is the same.”
Francisco was a standout player at Kahuku and BYU, then played eight seasons in the NFL.
Chansen Garcia, DB, Jr.
“Got hurt the first day of pool play. It was his ankle, I believe. Fale took his place.
Manoa Hallums, WR, So.
“He actually had a great pool-play day. His route running got better. His understanding of route concepts got better. Ever since he got here he’s been jelling with the wide receivers. He’s having a blast. He lives right there by Laie Park, so all the boys go to his house, walk to the park, play rough and tumble, basketball.”
Kache Kaio, WR, So.
“He was tearing it up both days of the tournament. He’s starting to run better routes and understand his relationship with To‘a. When to look back for the ball, how to run his route against man and zone. I grew up with his dad, Kealoha, We always ask for the kids in Laie to be on this team. I ran into Kealoha and we started talking.”
Liona Lefau, LB/WR, Jr.
“He got hurt the first day. Somebody hit him illegally and it was his teeth, so he had to go to the emergency room. Fractured somewhere along the gum line. He took it like a champ, walked off the field. Everything was bloody. X-rays and scans. After the games we went back to the hotel and he’s lifting weights at the hotel. He should’ve been resting but he keeps going and going. He’s working out at the Red Lion. To me that shows he really wants it and he’s a great example to the young kids. If you’re still breathing and able to walk, why not. Nothing will hold him back. He’s the face of this Rebel Squad program and the Kahuku football program.”
Solomone Malafu, LB, Jr.
“The tournament up north (in Utah), he played offense. He’s a mismatch problem. We let him run around a little. When Liona went down, Mone stepped up. He’s a quiet, humble kid. He asks a lot of questions because this is new to him, and that’s what we like. Next man up. He just got offered by Cal.”
After sparking Kapaa to the Division II state championship last season, Malafu is enjoying the opportunity to play in combines and camps, learning and competing at a D-I level with Rebel Squad. The logical question is simple: would he consider transferring to Kahuku?
“He has a lot of family here and I’ll leave it at that. We told him we support him in anything he does,” Soliai said. “From watching him play, it’s his explosiveness. You don’t really know it until you see him play. His first, second, third step, oh wow. He’s got some game. He doesn’t say anything on the field. He just lets his action take control. He doesn’t complain.”
Aiden Manutai, CB, Fr.
“Shaun (Niu) is the other corner from Aiden. He just moved back from Mililani. His roots are in Kahuku. His dad is an alumni. His grandparents’ siblings all graduated from Kahuku from the 1960s to the ‘90s. His dad, Lincoln, was an All-State linebacker here, took the JC route and started at UH. His brother Alvin was also an All-State linebacker at Kahuku. Aiden very smart. His IQ is through the roof. For someone who just started learning the game a couple years ago, it’s very high. He was a baseball player only until three years ago.”
Carson Mariteragi, WR, Jr.
“Big body, big target.”
Zaden Mariteragi, LB, Fr.
He is related to senior quarterback Jason Mariteragi.
“They’re cousins. He has great size, great length,” Soliai said. “We brought him and Fale up for the future, trying to plug him in there. After Liona and Leonard leave, we have to fill the void. He got in the second day and made a lot of plays. Very athletic, lengthy, very young. We wanted to see how he would do with older kids and he did very well. He didn’t shy away from anything. He enjoyed the challenge.”
Shaun Niu, CB, Jr.
“He’s the other corner from Aidan. They had a great tournament, breaking on balls, picking balls, disguising in coverage, confusing the QBs. THey’re solid, lengthy corners and it’s hard to pick on them. They had an amazing tournament.”
Madden Soliai, WR/DB, eighth grade, 5-9, 160
One of Soliai’s sons, Madden, is a rising star playing on the 14U when he’s not lining up at wide receiver for the older units.
“I named him after John Madden because I’m a Raiders fan. After Mana, Aidan them, pulling them up, as an eighth grader, Madden separated himself. He played, double-rostered him. He had a great tournament, got some snaps in with the older guys. I’m moving him up to varsity (this fall). The intermediate lost the championship, 20-14.”
Lefau shared his optimism about Madden Soliai in a recent interview with Hawaii Prep World.
“The reason Liona raves about him is he maxes out at 250 bench, power cleans 275, squat 305. He’s been working out with older guys like Liona since he was a little kid. He lifts with Vic Fonoimoana. I want him to learn from the leaders like Liona, Leonard, Brock, Kaikai before they leave.”
Clyde Taulapapa, SB, Jr.
“That’s Wayne’s brother and he’s bigger than Wayne was at this age. Muscular and ripped. He had a great tournament, some ups and downs, but he redeemed himself in clutch situations. We played Triple Threat (Idaho). They’re bigger, taller than us. No. 1 in our bracket, lost to them in pool play. In single elimination, during one of the drives, the ball went through his hands and he bobbled it, the defender intercepted it. With 1:10 left, we’re driving down and the last play, we’re down five points, ball on the 5-yard-line. Toa (Waika Carvalho) throws it to him on a speed out and he came up big. These kids kept believing in themselves the whole time. Get to the line, get reset. These kids keep believing in themselves.”
Viliamu Toilolo, DB, Jr.
“Junior had a great tournament, moving from corner to hybrid safety. He and Aidan worked together, covering the field side to side. He’s understanding route concepts and where to be. He’s learning on the fly and doing very well.”
Gemini Vendiola, WR/DB, Jr.
“He couldn’t come because (Kahuku) made the (OIA baseball) playoffs, so he stayed home. Kahuku hasn’t had a winning (baseball) season in years.”
The year-round training, even the 6 a.m. workouts for youngsters who don’t play football, has galvanized the small, but passionate neighborhoods in Kahuku’s district.
“Shout out to the North Shore community. We’re very blessed to be part of the community. They’re very, very supportive,” Soliai said.
The run isn’t quite done. While the high schoolers have a break, the 12U and 14U squads are in another local tournament this weekend.
After Kahuku players and coaches invested time, energy and hope into their Pylon campaign in ’21, they went on to capture the Open Division state crown for the first time since 2016. The offseason work never stops.
“We don’t enter these things to win, but to get reps for the kids to prepare for the season. The more reps, the better we’ll be as a program,” Soliai said.
Kahuku head coach Sterling Carvalho is the Rebel Squad offensive coordinator. Nehoa Pule is the RS defensive coordinator.
“Nehoa installs and runs the defense top to bottom, four teams. Everybody is talking the same language across the board from the players to the coaches, so when they get to us, they’re not starting at zero,” said Soliai, who is the longtime DC at Kahuku. “We get the best of both worlds, We’re a non-profit entity. These kids go out in the community, they knock on doors. They go to church together.”
Rebel Squad competed with two teams rather than one. The first team is “Ghost” and the younger, developmental group is “Gunz.” Both tags originate with the late Matt Faga, Kahuku’s former assistant coach.
“I called him ‘Ghost Recon’ and his wife called him ‘Gunz.’ We wear camo across the board,” Soliai said. “We dedicated this trip to him.”
The Gunz lineup reached the playoffs and lost in the first round. The mix of varsity and JV players comprises a roster of 19 players. The intermediate roster has 20 players, and the 12U, which lost in the semifinals, carries 24 players. That adds up to 83 players who made the trip to the mainland.
“They bought in. Coaches bought in. We love it. They see where it’s going,” Soliai said. “We’re at a pivotal point. In the beginning, as a program, we made the decision to use Pylon to improve our (Kahuku) program.”
Soliai’s vast experience as an assistant coach/coordinator and his ties in the community make him an ideal connector. He has young children, as did another impactful coach, Tony Tuioti, who coached at Kalaheo before taking on the world of college football. Tuioti is now on the staff at Oregon.
“I’m happy where I’m at right now. I have seven boys. There’s Madden, then the one right under him. He goes to Kamehameha. Baseball player. He lives with his mom. Then two more after that,” Soliai said. “My last one is a girl, so I have eight total. I think I’m done after that.”