The art of breaking in brand-new, state-tourney footballs

Different coaches have different ways of breaking in brand-new footballs, including this one distributed by the HHSAA for the state tournament. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Jaymason Lee has a specific rule about new footballs: don’t let the kickers mess with them.

Savaii Eselu trusts his steel brush with them.

Every year, each head coach at the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships is allotted three new footballs to use.

No other balls are permitted. This year, instead of receiving the new, slick balls on game day, they were distributed to coaches on Sunday at the HHSAA’s coaches meeting. That gives teams at least five days to break those footballs in before kickoff. The new balls have the HHSAA logo stamped on, but breaking in the new pigskin — or synthetic — football is a skill in itself.

Kapaa coach Philip Rapozo doesn’t use any tools to break in the new footballs.

“We just use them. Use them for practice, throw them around,” he said.

At Moanalua, where the OIA Division champions throw the ball 76 percent of the time, it’s about the brushing.

“Overall, we do it with (passing and) catching, but we just brush them, too, get the stickiness coming out,” Eselu said. “It’s a steel toothbrush.”

Lee, an offensive coordinator at Campbell, was a standout quarterback at Castle, then went on to play at Alabama A&M. He prefers the Wilson football used by the ILH.

“Those footballs, to me, are hands down the best. It’s a little smaller, but they just seem more proportional,” Lee said. “The Baden football is wide, doesn’t get narrow at the ends of the ball. Makes it more challenging to catch the ball, a wider diamond. That makes it a little tougher for kids who don’t have big hands.”

Lee’s method of breaking in the new footballs is a testament to experience. It also fits better with the time span. Campbell has a span of 12 days from the day the footballs were distributed (Nov. 10) to game day (Nov. 22).

“That’s a good amount of time to break it in. I like to throw it on the ground, and it bounces back to me. I brush them with a Wilson (steel) brush. I bought it when I was buying a few balls for my academy,” Lee said.

By bouncing the new balls off the ground, each will get a relatively balanced impact.

“Some people give it to their kickers, and they kick it, it rolls and bounces on the ground, but I don’t like the balls getting lopsided,” Lee said. “That’s why the kickers have their own footballs. They don’t kick the laces, so they tend to kick the balls in the same spot every time. Those balls aren’t proportional at all.”

Footballs have changed, and so has the world that produces them. There was barely any brand-name recognition for Nike back in the 1960s, but the running-shoe company branched out and now makes just about every sporty ball, including footballs. Baden, a Renton, Wash.-based company, developed the NCAA women’s tournament basketball in 1984. Baden later spread its wings into other sports.

The HHSAA’s contract with Baden, pronounced BAH-den, means all of its team sports use balls made by the company. A few years back, the Baden baseball a tiny bit smaller, according to the then-Hawaii rep. That created more velocity out of a pitcher’s hand, and more velocity off the bat. In recent years, there has been a major upsurge with the Baden softball. The velocity is possibly one factor in a fantastic rise in home runs last spring.

The Baden Elite basketball, used by the OIA, HHSAA and, as of this upcoming winter, the ILH, is a work of art to some. The deep channels border on a level comparable to the popular Wilson Evolution.

The Baden football, however, has generated many opinions in recent years. Teams from the Big Island, often playing in rain, complained about the Baden football of a decade ago. Torrential rain means teams can swap out the regular football for a rubber football on the Big Island. The same was true on Oahu, at least when Lee played in the mid-2000s.

“I remember when it used to rain. Spalding was the football we were using. We would have Spalding rubber footballs that were cleared to use. To me, those made it easier throwing in the rain, especially in Kaneohe, it rains a lot,” he said.

Eselu believes wet weather requires additional adjustments by players.

“With wet-ball mechanics, these (Baden) footballs are better. It’s improved. You can still catch it,” he said. “Just don’t use regular gloves. You’ve got to find leather gloves.”

The football glove business is lucrative. Nike was the center of attention a few years back for being, some say, too sticky. Synthetic and leather gloves aren’t cheap. Online, they go from $34.99 to $55 from makers like Under Amour, Schutt Neumann, Nike, Adidas and more.

“At Castle, we couldn’t use gloves,” Lee recalled. “During the (Nelson) Maeda era, no receivers could wear gloves. Everyone had long black socks, black shoes. It was just part of being one team, and being disciplined. Nobody used gloves, and we threw it almost every down. (Gloves) would’ve helped. In college, when it rained, everybody just took their gloves off.”

The bottom line, every team is back at square one, using essentially the same football. ILH representatives Saint Louis and ‘Iolani have 12 days to get familiar with a different brand, a different feel. It hasn’t seemed to bother Saint Louis, which has won the last three Open Division titles.


  1. 2cents November 13, 2019 10:14 am

    No coach or player endorses the Baden ball yet the HHSAA insists on using an inferior almost defective ball when Wilson ($79) is the universal standard and Spalding ($68) is a close second. Baden for football ($59) and now basketball is another example of the cheap SOH trying to save $20 bucks per football and $10 dollars per basketball but will annually spend over 41K per Halawa medium security prisoner and less than 2k per public school student. A$$ backwards.

  2. Makakilo Warrior November 13, 2019 1:54 pm

    Correction on the Halawa medium security prisoner, the amount is $51k annually.

  3. 2cents November 13, 2019 7:28 pm

    Auwe mahalo Makakilo Warrior for the corrected nui figure taxpayers doll out annually. Scary.

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