Walter Young the Math Teacher is about numbers.
Walter Young the Football Coach is about trust. And roots. And especially, education.
As a youngster, his penchant for solving math problems led to a college education, which led to a desire to teach. And a will to coach. As head of the math department, he’s a builder as much as he is a math whiz. The accolades of Waianae’s science program are a lofty standard worth comparison.
“The math program, we’re trying to build up. It went from way down here up to mediocre now. We’re trying to get it higher, trying to push the rigor so when kids get to college, they don’t have to take remedial classes,” Young said. “We’re trying to create a system with rigor in the classroom and bring all the academics up to par so kids can get the same academics they would get going (to private schools). The kids are coming out and understanding that education comes first. We go out in the community and read, do activities with the younger kids. It helps the youngsters and it helps our kids to believe in themselves. They know these young kids look up to them and it pushes them to try harder.”
The Waianae Seariders are 24 hours away from playing MIL champion Baldwin in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Division I tournament, and Young’s persistence on and off the field is paying off. Poise. Intensity. Focus.
“In the film, it shows they’ve got athletes,” Young said. “They run their offense effectively and they’ve got a strong defense. They’re able to create turnovers from what I saw on the tape against Lahainaluna. We’re going to come out and try to play Waianae football and see what happens.”
Young believes in keeping the game simple for his team, but sometimes unpredictable for opponents.
“Whatever can shorten the game for us, we’ve just got to finish at the end of drives. Defensively, come up with some stops and turnovers and we’ll be OK,” he said.
The running back-option pass by Kade Ambrocio to Isaiah Freeney on the first play from scrimmage against Farrington caught everyone off guard. Much the same with the unexpected on-side kicks by reliable kicker Tate Ebel, who has come through consistently.
“He’s a sophomore and he’s a key factor. That’s why we brought him up. He does a lot of things correct for us. He goes out there without any pressure and kicks the ball through. We collaborate (about on-side kickoffs) and if the opportune time comes, we try it,” Young said.
As an assistant coach, Young gained a comfort and familiarity with the process. As a head coach, he hasn’t let up. A “light” practice in helmets and shorts on Thursday afternoon at steamy Raymond Torii Field begins early. Situational work. Whistles at volume 10. Players and coaches alike, communicating and keeping everything sharp. Practice was supposed to start in 20 minutes, but they’re running through this day-before-the-biggest-game-of-the-year at full tilt. Straight from mandatory — and daily — study hall (2:30 to 3:15 p.m.) to the field.
Young is there in the middle of all of it. Senior defensive back Austin Keliinoi-Westbrook is part of the new normal: a student-athlete with a 3.8 grade-point average.
“We work as a team. We do our plays, do our assignments,” he said. “As long as you do that, you’ll be successful.”
The scout offense has put time on the field this week, running Baldwin’s base offense.
“They run a spread offense, a lot of passing,” Keliinoi-Westbrook said. “They’re a little bit like Moanalua.”
When the Seariders meet Baldwin in Friday’s 4:30 quarterfinal game at Aloha Stadium, they’ll have the same diligent approach. No superstars. No hype. A lot of physical, disciplined football. Faculty members have been atop the football program at Waianae for decades, going back to Larry Ginoza. And Ginoza played under Father Bray at ‘Iolani, where the “one team” mantra was real. Real, as in, this: after playing for Bray, Eddie Hamada became football coach and insisted that no player receive anything special after a game — be it a lei or can of juice — unless every player also received the same thing.
There are no ‘Iolani graduates coaching at Waianae today, but the mindset remains. There are no special achievement stickers to wear on helmets. All there is, is the bold, red ‘W’ logo on a navy blue helmet. The same ‘W’ that’s on the front of Young’s navy blue T-shirt, the one that he proudly wears to work.
Practice ends quickly. Young instructs his team about Friday’s itinerary, the early departure from campus to Aloha Stadium. The work has been done. The Seariders have prepared. They have learned so clearly, certainly after last week’s 20-19 elimination-game win over Farrington, about the immense value of discipline. Nine penalties in the first quarter. Only one yellow flag after that while Farrington piled up nearly two dozen infractions for 176 penalty yards. It was, in the end, the difference between winning and losing, between staying alive and turning in the helmets and pads.
“The only thing they told us in the second half was keep our heads in the game, don’t retaliate or anything. If we win, we have a lot to look forward to and we don’t want to get thrown out of the game not get to play in the game coming up,” senior running back Royce Carrick said.
Young’s intense, yet low-key demeanor is a big part of that discipline. Carrick, like the rest of his classmates, knows Young well. He even took a geometry class from Young when Young was still in the classroom teaching students.
“In ninth grade, he was my math teacher. He’s a good teacher. He finds ways to explain it to you,” Carrick said.
Keliinoi-Westbrook took a class of Young’s that same year as a freshman.
“He’s more serious on the field,” Keliinoi-Westbrook said. “He’s strict on disciplinary actions and mistreating each other.”
Staying cool is an art form as much as it is sheer obedience. The Seariders have basic disciplinary action — lots of running – for committing penalties in games. But they knew, as players, they had to jettison the behavior that was piling up those yellow flags. As Young said after the game, at some point coaches can only coach so much. It’s up to players to take ownership of their fate.
“We just think it’s too early to turn in our pads. We’re not ready to cut the season short yet. It just pushes us to work that much harder,” Carrick said.
How do adults get any group of 16- and 17-year-old kids to do anything, period? Young doesn’t offer any complicated solution. But he does point toward the classrooms at Waianae as a starting place. He doesn’t point to any analytics equation, but Young has successfully deployed his immense depth at running back to 1) keep fresh legs in every game for every play, and 2) minimize any possible negative byproduct, like injuries.
Nine Seariders have carried the ball at least 21 times so far. It is, as Baldwin coach Pohai Lee said during the HHSAA coaches press conference on Sunday, impossible to pin down a go-to running back.
“We try to do it by committee. We’ve got a lot of talent so we try to give all the talent a fair amount of shots. We believe all of them can get the job done,” Young said.
One of those efficient ball carriers is Carrick, who is usually running around end out of Waianae’s wing-T attack when he gets a touch.
“I know that Baldwin is not too bad. We can beat anyone. We just have to work hard and want it more than them,” said Carrick, who plans to join the Air Force and become a diesel mechanic.
Keliinoi-Westbrook has looked ahead, just enough to figure out his next goal after the days as a Waianae Searider are done. He hopes to attend the University of Oregon and major in architecture. But he’s looking forward to the program’s future, too.
“Honestly, I see a lot of potential in next year’s team. A lot of good underclassmen,” he said. “As long as we lock down on defense and our offense scores, we should be successful.”