When the Kahuku Red Raiders go to work on the football field, it’s not just about hard hats and hammers on the defensive side.
This year, it’s been about coach Vavae Tata’s penchant for physical domination at every point of contact. That’s why, when offensive coordinator John Hao installed a new look two games ago against Waianae, it was the culmination of several weeks’ worth of reps, reps and getting the offense to believe.
Now, Kahuku has nine focused blockers on virtually every snap. The only people not blocking within 1-2 seconds are QB Kesi Ah-Hoy and RB Harmon Brown. That leaves the other nine Red Raiders with frontal-force out duties.
The math tells us that there is awesome mass poundage moving forward in a high-acceleration thrust. Most high school offenses, at least in the OIA, have linemen who average in the 225-240 pound range. Five of them.
Some teams don’t utilize a tight end. In those scenarios, it’s basically five O-linemen against six defenders.
In the power formations, Kahuku has seen as many as 10 defenders in the box. Let’s say the weight total of 10 defenders comes out to 2,000 pounds since most defenses keep their smaller players — cornerbacks and safeties, in particular — on the field against Kahuku’s rhinos.
That’s 2,000 pounds, those 10 defenders in the box.
Kahuku’s nine blockers? They add up to 2,442 pounds. There really is no way a standard defense — and many are built to defend against four-wide spread formations — can match up against a moving, unified force of this size, girth and acceleration.
Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez’s defense had a chance. They have size. They have linebackers with strength and physicality.
“We couldn’t fill all the gaps,” he said moments after Kahuku’s 56-10 win.
Kapolei endured 48 snaps by Kahuku that resulted in 431 rushing yards. More than that, it was absorbing those 2,442 pounds of downhill stampeding by the Red Raiders. If not for the mercy rule, the entry of Kahuku’s reserve players and a moderate shift in playcalling (three passes in the fourth quarter might be Kahuku’s season high), it likely would’ve been 50 rushing attempts or more.
What defense can withstand 50 Kahuku carries, taking the brunt of all that tonnage each time?
What we’re witnessing is unique, but similar in a sense to those 1980s power-blasting college teams. The guys who lived in weight rooms and thrived on pure muscle football. Nebraska comes to mind, but even the Cornhuskers still lined up wide receivers.
One twist implemented by Tata, Hao and the staff is using linemen as tight ends. Stennett Alapa began the season as a guard. During the Waianae game (see video below), he wore No. 83, which I didn’t know. That jersey belonged to another player earlier in the year, and that kid was listed as 5-11, 180 pounds.
Alapa is 6-1, 250, and that was noticeable when I went back and edited game video. He stood out because I saw the “new” 83 block two defenders on one of Ah-Hoy’s TD runs against Waianae. Alapa then wore another jersey number (89) in the win over Kapolei. No opposing defensive coordinator can scout, videotape and correctly locate a valuable wild card/pancake maker like Alapa from week to week.
Gamesmanship? Who knows. It’s perfectly legal, as far as I know, and though Kahuku’s offensive approach may seem as simplistic as anything we’ve ever seen, it’s the wrinkles and nuances the staff has included that make it shine a little brighter.
Many teams have utilized unbalanced offensive lines before. Kaimuki put it to work in the early 1980s, making the most of their surplus of 200- to 220-pound blockers. Kahuku has an almost infinite number of big boys who block, and they’re in the 240 to 300 range (see lineup photo at top).
When Ah-Hoy scored on a 1-yard sneak at the end of the first half (see video below), Kahuku had No. 71 lined up as an eligible (probably) tight end on the right. But he’s not the 71 listed on the preseason roster — a wide receiver who is 5-10, 165 pounds. No, 71 is (or was) Kaisa Fiatoa. He’s not listed on our roster, in the roster above, I subbed in Noah Magalei, the DE/TE who caught a TD pass against Waianae. But I’m guessing Fiatoa is around 6-foot and 275 pounds. Easy.
(** UPDATE, 9:35 p.m. – I got his vitals by night time. His full name is Kaisa Fiatoa-Holani, a 6-2, 305-pound junior. The combined weight of the nine blockers in this formation is now 2,497 pounds. Technically, yes, Fiatoa-Holani is a TE. Maybe we’ll see him catch a pass this season.)
Whatever his vitals are, it’s about maximizing the potential of personnel, and from tight end to tight end, plus a steamrolling fullback and full-blasting H-back in front of Ah-Hoy, the math is undeniable.
Edge to the Kahuku offense.
In the roster above, only three of the 11 are seniors. The rest are juniors. There are other linemen and tight ends and fullbacks and running backs, yes.
For now, the Red Raiders are in a sweet spot. Hao’s hybrid offense feels like a jumbo set and looks like a throwback offense. In the islands, that’s as novel as it gets unless some OC installs a wishbone set. Waianae’s wing-T is as close to throwback a it gets. Punahou’s single-wing, installed by Charlie Ane and Kane Ane, lands in that throwback category, too, though it’s been years since the Buffanblu flipped over to the three- and four-wide sets that still thrive now. Like those throwback offenses of yesteryear, Kahuku’s ballcarriers hit the line quickly and they aren’t greedy — unless they run the equivalent of a stretch or sweep play.
One possible cure for any foe — Farrington faces Kahuku on Friday in the OIA Division I semifinals — would be to line up with a jumbo defense. Sit the cornerbacks and other lightweight guys and have 10 strong tacklers with enough girth to handle the constant smashmouth pounding.
This might be too much to ask, even of Farrington. The Governors employ several smaller, but fast defensive backs. They’ve had success on that side of the ball, but they’ve also had issues making tackles at the third level.
Against Kapolei, Kahuku went to the left over and over once it realized that the road to riches was paved there. Farrington may be one of the few teams with enough depth and size in the first two levels to fill every gap with 200-pound plus tacklers. It still might not be enough, but unless the Red Raiders suddenly become fumblers, nothing seems able to stop them.
Coaches don’t usually dwell on the past, but as spectators, we can see in black and white how the Kahuku offense has prospered in Tata’s smashmouth philosophy.
Kahuku rushing offense
267.3 per game
7.2 yards per carry
In this age, an offense that rarely throws the ball may not be very appealing to most young players, even coaches. After all, that’s what the game looked like decades ago. But it clearly works and works well, and winning is a natural high for everyone involved. When it works this well while young players embrace the most fundamental of football skills — blocking – there’s something pure and amazing about that. This offense seems invincible and unstoppable.
For defenses, it’s not so pleasant. Here’s one pupule solution: Stack the box with your four best run-blocking linemen (yes, have them add and share defensive duties), then put your defensive tackles at inside linebacker (each inside gap). Then line up Manti Te‘o as one OLB and Lance Williams as the other OLB, then for good measure, put Chris Paogofie on one edge as a rover/dime back/CB and Nate Jackson on the other side as a rover/CB.
Then, maybe, a defensive unit will have a chance.