He loves defense.
True, his meticulously-engineered, high-powered offenses in recent years entered ridonkulous territory, but when Mililani coach Rod York knuckles down on the inner workings of daily preparation, the Trojans understand full well that means tightening the screws and hammering every nail that stands out.
Seventh-ranked Mililani (1-0) took it one step further, perhaps, on Saturday night in a 42-7 win over Kaiser. It’s now special teams that gets as much sweat equity.
“We spend as much time on that as we do on offense and defense,” York said. “We’re really, really, really focusing on special teams and defense this year. Make sure that we take care of every detail.
He might as well have been saying this: With the Big Three of QB McKenzie Milton (UCF), RB Vavae Malepeai (USC) and Kalakaua Timoteo (UH) graduated, the will to embrace the nuances of special teams isn’t just a priority. For York, it’s perhaps becoming obsession. The coaching staff, he says, is enhanced this season.
There is a big-bommer punter in Cy Kuboyama-Hayashi, and there’s rugby-style sidewinder Kainalu Wong. It was Wong who got all the punting duty on Saturday. It wasn’t about winning the field-position battle, not in a one-sided game — “We knew Kaiser wasn’t going to be at full strength,” York said.
The rugby style booting is about maximizing efficiency.
“We’re improving on our coaching and we went and learned new things with our punter this year. Ugly is nice,” York said. “We’ve got about eight different things we can do. We used two tonight.”
It was about every member of the punt coverage team buying in. Wong was impeccably effective, sending his left-footed taps dribbling down into the coffin corner. Kaiser, with just 24 players in uniform, didn’t bother returning a single one. With so many linemen playing both ways, it was the only time they could get a breather, drink some water and simply survive.
But it also gave Wong a chance to hone his craft. On paper, he had punts of 39, 21 and 35 yards. Rather mundane, it would seem.
>> The 39-yard punt pinned Kaiser at its 2-yard line.
>> The 21-yard punt was downed at the Kaiser 4.
>> The last punt, 35 yards, was downed at the Kaiser 3.
In a game when Kaiser was short of personnel for various reasons, the punter they had was instructed, probably, to kick out of bounds regardless of the consequences. The result: punts of 23, 34, 7, 16 and 31 yards. No question, with the opening week of OIA regular-season play done, teams will get their academic probies back. Punting duties will fall back to regular punters.
Mililani won’t have such a huge advantage in field position due to reasons like punting, but for York and his staff, the early numbers can’t help but be promising. Having an edge of more than 9 yards per punt, not to mention the returning prowess of Andrew Valladares — he returned a punt 44 yards and also saw a TD return brought back by penalty — is the stuff of Dick Tomey daydreams.
“A lot depends on the snap, the catch, so we work on that a lot,” York said.