With 35 V/JV players, Nanakuli grinding away in the Valley

Nanakuli's Gavin Vea-Flint carries the ball in this 2018 game for Nanakuli. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

The heat, the dryness, the solitude.

There’s nothing like being a Nanakuli Golden Hawk. Not before the pandemic. Not during it.

There are roughly 35 Golden Hawks grinding in the weight room and on the dusty field in the Valley. Some are new junior varsity players. Some were on that gritty JV squad in 2019, well before football got cancelled.

“The thing with this team, the last time we coached them was JV. They finished their (’19) season with only 15 players, so they’re used to it,” Nanakuli coach Kili Watson said. “They made it to the playoffs.”

Watson is relying heavily on several players, including senior guard/defensive tackle Josiah Aleka, junior slotback/linebacker Allen Mahoe and junior slotback/cornerback David Kalili.

Leadership isn’t lacking. The challenge of low numbers requires some of the most steely, dedicated souls for smaller football programs. Only the toughest survive.

“Honestly, that’s normally what happens. They just weed themselves out. It’s a tough situation. You’re left with a handful and if you’re lucky, 25 (players on a team). As difficult as that may be, it’s reassuring that the 25 you have are committed to the team and the goal,” Watson said.

Teams across the state are in the midst of much-needed conditioning work. Official practice does not begin until July 19, with scrimmages to begin July 29.

Nanakuli coach Kili Watson

“We have a whole lot of conditioning. I think they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. Our seniors and juniors that finished the season with 15 boys, they know what it takes, what we have to go through. They’ll go ahead and take over. They’ll lead and explain everything to the underclassmen,” Watson said.

Division II in the Oahu Interscholastic Association is always a battle of attrition. Powerhouse Roosevelt is now gone, promoted to D-I. Radford was winless in D-I in ’19, and is now in D-II.

In ’21, the pandemic is not over, but football is back. Unfortunately, some of Nanakuli’s better athletes are not.

“Kids transferring out has always been an issue even before the pandemic, but we have a solid core of kids right now,” said Watson, now in his fourth year as a head coach.

Yet, if any team, large or small, can put together enough momentum on offense, defense and special teams, D-II is where long shots can surge beyond expectations. Kaimuki has done it for many seasons. Nanakuli has had its share of D-II success, playing in the state tournament a few years back.

But don’t call the Golden Hawks a contender, let alone a favorite.

“I would hate it,” Watson said. “I like being the underdogs. I think it’s just the upbringing and the community. It’s the lifestyle. That’s where a lot of our kids thrive. They like being challenged. I wouldn’t be a big fan if I heard that.”

With Fred Salanoa of Radford and newly-hired Kale Ane now at McKinley, OIA D-II now has many of the more experienced gurus in prep football.

“For McKinley, it’s definitely an investment for the long run,” Watson said. “I think it’s awesome for them to have an experienced and knowledgable coach. He can work his magic over there.”

Kaiser. Kaimuki. Kalaheo. McKinley. Radford. Waialua. Nanakuli.

“Pearl City. That guy always keeps everything a secret,” Watson said of Chargers coach Robin Kami. “It’s always an exciting game week leading up to that one.”

Nanakuli has three scrimmages scheduled, starting with Leilehua and Roosevelt on July 29. On the 30th, Nanakuli is tentatively scheduled to host Campbell. On July 31, the Golden Hawks will host Punahou. Watson is hoping Roosevelt can make that a three-way scrimmage.

For now, it’s major conditioning in 90-degree heat in the dry valley. Distancing and mask-wearing prevail.

“We just keep it by position groups. We did some 7-on-7s and inside runs,” he said. “The day that (the City and County) announced that they don’t need to wear masks outdoors, the team came out and ripped their masks off. ‘Coach, we don’t need to wear our masks anymore!’ But not with the DOE. We have to wear ours. There’s no parallelism.”

Watson is hoping the restrictions are eased soon.

“In the beginning, I was a real stickler. You want to be cautious about everything, but even just coaching, I’m struggling with it. I can only imagine the challenges going on for the kids. I tell them, just make sure you stay spaced out. We’ve go to breathe, man.”

Preseason scrimmages/games
As of Thursday, July 8

Thursday, July 29
4 p.m. – Nanakuli, Leilehua at Roosevelt
5:30 p.m. – Kaimuki, Kahuku at Campbell
6:30 p.m. – Waipahu at Kapolei (JV 4:30 p.m.)
Time TBD – Moanalua at Saint Louis
Time TBD – Aiea, Kaimuki at Waianae (JV/V)

Friday, July 30
4 p.m. – Moanalua at McKinley
4 p.m. – Campbell at Nanakuli (tentative)
6:30 p.m. – Damien at Farrington
6:30 p.m. – Kahuku at Waipahu (JV 4 p.m.)
Time TBD – Mililani at Waianae (JV/V)

Saturday, July 31
9 a.m. – Punahou at Nanakuli
4 p.m. – Kalani at Moanalua
6 p.m. – Pearl City, Kapaa at Waipahu (JV 4 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. – Damien at Waialua
Time TBD – Waianae at ‘Iolani
Time TBD – Kaimuki, Kailua at Saint Louis
Time TBD – Aiea at Farrington

Wednesday, Aug. 4
Time TBD – Kaimuki at Mililani

Preseason games

Friday, Aug. 6
Punahou at Kailua, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 7
Kaiser at ‘Iolani, 3 p.m.
Damien at Radford (JV pending), 6:30 p.m.
Damien at Radford, 6:30 p.m.
Time TBD – Moanalua at Pearl City


  1. ILoveHawaii July 9, 2021 8:07 am

    Gotta love and respect the effort up there in the valley.
    So much talent on the west side.
    Youth sports thrive and succeed and then it becomes a challenge in the middle to high school ages.

    Good luck to the Hawks and the Seariders this year.

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