Wendell Say feels fortunate that his Aiea football team’s game Friday night at Kaiser is a nonleague affair.
Otherwise, he would not be able to do what he is about to do.
Say is bringing the full JV squad of about 30 players up to suit up for the Kaiser varsity game. That’s because Na Alii’s varsity team would have fielded less about 18 players due to academic probation and injuries.
So instead of barely fielding a team, Aiea will have plenty of manpower for the varsity opener. Say said that about 34 of the approximately 50 varsity and JV players combined will see playing time.
The drawback, however, is that Na Alii will not field a team for the JV matchup.
Next weekend, when Aiea hosts Nanakuli, those JV players who moved up will be back down to JV. If the game against Kaiser was a league game, those players would not have been eligible to move up.
Eventually, Say is hoping Aiea will return to two full, healthy (and grade-eligible) teams — a bit less than 30 on the varsity and more than 30 on the JV.
Say said the team went into its preseason varsity scrimmages with 22 eligible players, and with four nursing injuries, the 18 remaining is bordering on not enough to play a game safely.
“Just trying to get the best scenario,” Say said. “This way, we didn’t have to cancel a varsity game. All of those JV kids who are capable fundamentally are going to get playing time. Safety is always an issue. We didn’t want our varsity players to play two games (vs. Kaiser and then vs. Nanakuli; before academic probation ends) low on numbers.”
Say decided against bringing up just some of the JV team instead of all of it. He didn’t want to send the JV team into the fray missing too many of its key players.
In past seasons, when Aiea had games against some of the top teams in the state such as Kahuku and Waianae, Say’s tendency was to bring many of the sophomores up to the varsity permanently. He’s not going to do that this year, and will instead let them develop at the lower level for the whole season. There are 18 Na Alii sophomores at the JV level.
Also in past seasons, some Aiea players showed up to the team on the first day of school, according to the coach. He’s expecting that to happen again this year (school begins next week) to help with long-term roster strength.
“But even though they come out late, they need one week of conditioning and one week of pads before they play,” he said. “What they need to know and do is you gotta come from the beginning. Sometimes kids think they can show up and play right away. When kids show up from the beginning, it builds team consistency and structure.”