Watson excited for the future at Nanakuli

Kapolei receiver Keanu Barboza fought for the ball in the end zone with Nanakuli defensive back Willis Yin in a game on Friday. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

As Nanakuli’s seniors savored a few more moments on the field, Kili Watson’s thoughts were already drifting toward the future.

Watson saw his first season as Nanakuli’s head coach end Friday night with a 36-0 loss to Kapolei in the regular-season finale for both teams.

After Kapolei secured the final berth in the OIA Division I playoffs, Nanakuli celebrated senior night with a heartfelt postgame ceremony punctuated by recorded messages from the senior’s parents.

“I’ve seen tremendous growth from our team, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally,” said Watson, not that far removed from his own senior night as a 2011 Kamehameha graduate.

“The resilience was always there from the start. It’s something the kids from our Nanakuli community are kind of known for. They’re known for their resilience and hard work and commitment.

“I tell them all the time I wouldn’t have wanted to have my first season with any other group. Despite the record, this was an exciting season. It was a roller coaster filled with ups and downs. I loved it.”

The Golden Hawks opened the regular season with a 12-7 win at Aiea, dropped their next five games in a tough OIA Red schedule, but still entered the final week of the season with a shot at the postseason.

Although the season will go into the books at 1-7 overall and 1-6 in the OIA Red, Watson pointed to other significant victories along the way.

“People often overlook the success our program has off the field,” he said. “On average, about 90 percent of our football boys are on the principal’s list. We’re sending kids off to college … they’re furthering their education. That’s what I’m here for. I’m trying to develop our future community leaders.”

On the field, Nanakuli opened Friday’s game by stopping Kapolei’s opening drive at the Golden Hawks’ 4. But the offense, playing without injured quarterback Nahum Kipi, struggled to gain traction and Kapolei surged to a 21-0 halftime lead.

“It’s no secret. Kapolei has athletes, they have weapons everywhere,” Watson said. “From quarterback to running back out to their slots and wideouts. You stop their run game, which they established early, and you fall right into their trap with the quick game out to the flats. They did a tremendous job.”

Junior Clyde Enos stepped in to start at quarterback against a fearsome Kapolei front seven. Sophomore Kaipo Burnett, just up from the JV, completed two passes and scrambled for a first down on the game’s final possession. Low numbers for Nanakuli forced the cancellation of the JV game and Watson pulled up several sophomores for the varsity finale.

“We’re one program, the transition was smooth. They practice together already,” Watson said.

“I told them, ‘you guys are going to step on that field tonight, it’s going to be a different atmosphere.’ It’s not a hot afternoon. At night under the lights it’s a totally different feeling. I was glad I was able to get some of them in.”

Kipi is among the sophomores slated to return and the youth coming up in the program had Watson thinking about building on this year’s experience just minutes after the final seconds elapsed on the season.

In the OIA’s current setup, Nanakuli would likely be headed for Division II next year with the end of the league’s two-year cycle. The Golden Hawks went 17-4 in D-II in 2014 and ’15, moved up to D-I and finished 1-15 over the last two years. They could be among the programs most affected by possible offseason changes to the OIA’s system.

“I’m always excited to move forward,” he said. “I always try to keep that mind-set so I’m looking forward to next year. … This season has definitely a learning experience. I loved it though.”


  1. Douglas Hu September 30, 2017 3:58 pm

    All respect to the Golden Hawks and Coach Watson….Sounds like a special program trying to do things the right way…

  2. kapolei dad October 1, 2017 7:42 pm

    Them nanakuli boyz that played for kapolei were pumped up..toilolo and the 2 recievers.No one wants to be a hawk nowadays..they gotta hire a man thats going keep kids home…….

  3. NAhNAh October 2, 2017 3:14 pm

    Kapolei dad. Kapolei’s roster is stacked yet they finished the season 4 – 4 ???? Weren’t they ranked # 3??? On paper they clearly look like the team to beat??? Maybe Kapolei should hire a new head coach too. They gotta hire a man thats going to win games cause what is his excuse? They have all the talent! Kids transfer from all over to play at Kapolei ???? Maybe that’s their problem. Those kids are Athletes don’t get me wrong! But they must not work hard in the Classroom cause why ain’t things adding up here?
    Kapolei is a place of disappointment. Why aren’t they winning Championships?

  4. Donald kapaku October 12, 2017 10:37 pm

    If you take your kids and play for another school there is nothing that any coach can do. Our community (Nanakuli) has always delt with this for many years. We do not want any kids or let alone any parents that don’t believe that there kids cannot make it out of Nanakuli. It tells you the mind set of the person and also a persons character. Being a true Hawk takes a different breed. You have to fight for every little thing you can get. People look down on you. People from your very own community n who you grew up with don’t believe that you can make it out from Nanakuli. To sit back n blame football coaches or any other coach is the easy way of doing things. Put on ur shoes come out and help bring a solution instead of suggestions that are out of the coaches hands. Me personally. I know this coaches want our kids to stay because They setup free entry n accesses to a live home game for the pop Warner. Took them in the locker rooms for the pregame speech. Let them on the field to watch pregame warmups n sing our alma mater with the varsity boys. Let them use the stadium. And also help our intermediate jps with there program. Showing up to practices n games giving advice n input. And this is the kicker!!! They take the boys and clean up our community!!! Teaching them to love wea we from. So that alone should make you shut your mouth or even make you keep your negative comments to yourself. It’s not about winning football games. It’s about changing our kids to be better then we was. If you come and listen at the graduation the boring part when they read scholarships and schools they are going to attend. you would know that there are more n more student athletes getting scholarships not just for sports but more importantly in education. Every year the number is getting higher. So please don’t say that oh we need new coaches. Wat we really need is better kids n PARENTS that won’t quit when times get hard. This not to put down any parent that takes there kid to another school for a better opportunity. This is to say you wasn’t cut out to be a HAWK!!! Lmao #Hawksbebeh

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