It should have been a night of celebration and excitement. After the postponement of its scheduled season-opener against Waianae, the Kamehameha football team had to wait three weeks before finally starting its season Aug. 29.
The Warriors traveled to California to play Del Oro as part of the 2014 Honor Bowl in Loomis, Calif., and beat the third-ranked team in the region and a team that made it to the CIF Division I state final a year ago.
The excitement over that win was tempered by injury concerns from the game. Most notably, running back Kaulana Apelu hurt his knee after rushing for 79 yards on only 10 carries.
Knee injuries are always serious, but amongst the team and the entire Kamehameha community, this injury was so much more.
Apelu was slated to be the team’s starting running back in 2013, but tore his ACL in the opener against Castle. Determined to make a healthy return for his senior year, Apelu worked hard in the offseason and was expected to carry the load for the Warriors.
Now, for the second year in a row, Apelu’s season is over before the first game ended. The injury suffered against Del Oro was another torn ACL.
And that’s not even the worst of it.
“It’s been a tough 13 months for him with the knee injuries and his father drowning about six months ago,” Kamehameha coach Doug Cosbie said after Kamehameha’s 33-6 win over Damien on Thursday.
Missing out on two seasons of football is tough enough, but the added loss of his father has made the past 13 months as tough as it gets for a high school football player.
The team, the school and the community has rallied around Apelu. The mantra for Kamehameha football this season is ‘win it for 13’ in tribute to Apelu’s No. 13. Prior to kickoff against the Monarchs at Kunuiakea Stadum, Apelu walked to midfield with three of his teammates to serve as one of the captains for the coin toss.
His first tweet following the injury read, “Not gonna meet anyone stronger than me.”
“He’s a resilient kid and I told him he’ll be playing again,” Cosbie said. “Maybe not as soon as he wants but he has a lot of football ahead of him. He’s a really talented player.”
With their teammate in their thoughts, the Warriors have pressed on this season and are 3-0 after wins over St. Francis and Damien. Without Apelu, Kamehameha has gone with a committee approach at running back. Junior Jordan Bayudan got the start against the Monarchs and rushed for three touchdowns on 10 carries while senior Makoa Freitas carried the ball 11 times for 48 yards.
The Warriors have dealt with a lot this season. Quarterback Noah Sua-Godinet took a wicked hit to the face against Del Oro but is back healthy. Cosbie sat out a number of starters in the first half against St. Francis for “some internal business with our team we had to take care of,” and saw his team trail the Saints at the half, 9-7.
The adversity that the Warriors have faced is to be expected, according to their coach.
“That’s part of the sport,” Cosbie said. “That’s the great thing about football. You go through some high’s and low’s. Most teams in general, if you stay healthy, you have a lot better chance. We’ve had some key injuries but you just battle through them. You just try to keep improving.”
That includes off the field, where Apelu will begin the rehab process all over again. While he fights to get back to playing the game he loves, the Warriors will fight for an ILH title on the field. All while keeping that one mantra fresh in the back of their minds.
Win it for 13.