They are humble gladiators with a simple dream, to bring the utmost success and glory to a tiny school in Manoa Valley.
A lot changed, however, on Monday afternoon. When news hit campus, Jonan “Bubbah” Aina-Chaves may as well have been hit by a bolt of lightning. The prolific junior running back and his classmates learned that St. Francis would close its doors at the high school and middle school.
The football team, which rose quickly to prominence over the last few years, is no more. Aina-Chaves, a Star-Advertiser All-State first-team selection, was sad and almost numb.
“I’m just speechless. I feel bad for my school,” he said on Monday night. “It was a great three years. I got to know new people and bond with them in football and other sports. They’re my brothers.”
In his two seasons on the gridiron, Aina-Chaves was one of many talented individual players who helped elevate the program.
2017: 229 carries, 1,646 yards, 17 TDs
2018: 137 carries, 1,289 yards, 15 TDs
The explosive Aina-Chaves also has 19 receptions for 406 yards and four TDs. With the school remaining open until this year’s seniors graduate, looking ahead may seem like a maze for all of the St. Francis underclassmen. They will be eligible to play immediately for any other Interscholastic League of Honolulu school. That was the case in 2010 when Word of Life Academy closed its doors. Juda Parker finished high school at Saint Louis, becoming All-State defensive player of the year. The offensive player of the year was his new teammate, quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Aina-Chaves says a relative at a nearby powerhouse and three-time Open Division state champion has chimed in.
“I hear from my boys at Saint Louis. Junior (Wily) is my second cousin. We play rugby together for Waikiki Beach Boys. His dad (Maafu) is the coach,” Aina-Chaves said. “Junior is serious. He wants me to be part of the (Crusader) brotherhood. Real talk. I still got to talk with my dad about it.”
Another possibility would be Mililani, the defending OIA Open champion.
“My neighbor plays for them,” said Aina-Chaves, who resides in Kalihi and may have to seek a district exception.
Staying home to play for Farrington is another option.
“But I want to stay out of that trouble life,” said Aina-Chaves, whose younger brother, Jonah Aina-Chaves, was a backup quarterback last season.
The only plus, Aina-Chaves noted, is that he would be able to participate in offseason exhibition games if he goes to a public school. The ILH prohibits underclassmen from playing in non-league sanctioned events.
As reported in Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser, Aina-Chaves’ teammate, Fa‘aope Laloulu, expressed his emotions about the school’s planned closure. He has offers from Arizona, BYU, Hawaii, Oregon, San Diego State and USC.
“We’re all taking it hard. We were hoping to come back and finish out our dream,” the 6-foot-7, 340-pound junior left tackle said.
“I should find out where I’ll go by the end of the school year,” said Laloulu, whose home district is Kalihi, or Farrington. “I’ll miss the atmosphere and the academic support we get here. They made sure we were up to par academically. We have teachers who are here early in the morning or late after school for us.”