Yam or Young? Kamehameha’s good problem

Kamehameha quarterback Thomas Yam was in the end zone with his third TD run as Saint Louis DB Dylan Toilolo approached. Photo by George F. Lee/Star-Advertiser. (Sept. 12, 2015)
Kamehameha quarterback Thomas Yam was in the end zone with his third TD run as Saint Louis DB Dylan Toilolo approached. Photo by George F. Lee/Star-Advertiser. (Sept. 12, 2015)
Senior Justice Young, who holds Kamehameha's single-game passing record, will contend with Boogie Yam for the starting QB job. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Senior Justice Young, who holds Kamehameha’s single-game passing record, will contend with Boogie Yam for the starting QB job. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

The last thing, in all likelihood, that first-year Kamehameha head football coach Abu Ma‘afala wants is a quarterback controversy.

Controversy? At the high school level? Preposterous, maybe. But in the islands, and especially to a historic program with roots deeper than deep on so many levels, there is widespread passion about Kamehameha football. With senior Thomas “Boogie” Yam and junior Justice Young intertwined in a battle for the starting position, Ma‘afala has only gone as far to say that there is “no 1-A and 1-B.”

That was several weeks ago, when our Nick Abramo was in the midst of his whirlwind virtual tour of teams in the ILH and OIA. But even as recently as Tuesday, Kamehameha’s newest guru wasn’t broaching anything. Not with camp recently over. Not with game one — Waianae — on the schedule coming up this weekend.

This is all the former defensive lineman at Kamehameha, Hawaii and Cal — and former college assistant coach — would offer: “Both kids are going to play. It’s my offense they’re running, and it is not similar to any major college program people would recognize.”

There may be a lot to read between those lines, or probably none at all. Nothing will matter, really, but the consistency of leadership and work ethic leading into this weekend’s preseason contest. That certainly won’t be the end-all, either. Nobody knows exactly how this will play out, not Ma‘afala, not Boogie, not Justice. All we know is that those are some heady names.

>> Ma‘afala, nephew of former Saint Louis and NFL player Chris Ma‘afala-Fuamatu, the latest member of one of the most storied families in island football history. The late, great Nick Ma‘afala. Benson Ma‘afala.

>> Yam was nicknamed “Boogie” because, well, hold that thought. Has anyone asked him yet? But any name/nickname that combines a major food in world history with a funky word synonymous with disco-era dance moves is relatively memorable, not to mention the biblical source of Yam’s first name.

>> Justice for all? Justice is one of the cleanest, smoothest first names around, and Young harkens back to all kinds of possibilities. It could be Chinese, would not be a surprise. But one of King Kamehameha’s right-hand men was John Young.

Enough digression. Since the maester of this team prefers not to divulge details, it’s time to go back into the time machine, a.k.a.. the video vault. For the first time in ages, the external hard drive containing a few Kamehameha football games from the fall of 2015 has been plugged in. Hopefully, everything is intact. Let’s take a look at numbers plus observations.

Yam: 4 games started (4 games played), 58-for-93, 9 TD, 3 INT, 909 passing yards, passer rating 169.95; 25 carries, 230 yards, 4 rushing TDs
Young: 3 games started (7 games played), 73-for-143, 9 TD, 5 INT, 1,044 passing yards, passer rating 126.15; 31 carries, 80 yards, 0 rushing TDs

Game 1, at Waianae
Yam starts and passes for a modest 147 yards and one touchdown in a 33-13 win.

Game 2, vs. Baldwin
Yam breaks out with four TD strikes and 323 passing yards, including 197 to Kumoku Noa, in a 53-0 victory.

Game 3, vs. Hilo
Yam spreads the wealth with an efficient 172 passing yards and three TDs on 8-for-9 accuracy in a 41-0 shutout win. For a second week in a row, he rushes for at least 70 yards. His penchant for tucking the ball and taking off is working well — for now.

Game 4, vs. Saint Louis
In the ILH opener, Yam passes for 282 yards and runs for 62 more. He throws for a TD, but is picked off three times, but the worst of it is that he is injured on a touchdown run, suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Kamehameha loses 31-27 as Fatu Sua-Godinet finishes the game at QB.

Game 5, vs. Punahou
Sua-Godinet passes for 131 yards in a 28-17 loss. Young tastes game action, going 2-for-2 with one TD and 69 passing yards.

Game 6, vs. ‘Iolani
Young takes the reins as a starter for the first time and delivers with a whopping 374 yards, including 193 to Noa and 165 to Cabunoc. He hurls four TD passes as the Warriors win 63-21.

Game 7, vs. Saint Louis
Young passes for 381 yards in a wild 51-36 loss to Saint Louis, the eventual league champion. The sophomore throws two TD passes, but is intercepted four times.

Game 8, vs. Punahou
Young passes for 225 yards, one TD and one pick. Punahou wins 26-23.

Game 9, at ‘Iolani
Brett Yap fills in and throws for 247 yards, three TDs and one INT in a 39-24 victory.

The numbers bear this out: Yam averaged nearly 10 yards per rushing attempt last season. TEN YARDS. Young was far more conservative (less than 3 yards per run), perhaps partly by design, maybe the play-calling was risk-conscious. It’s hard to say from afar. But Yam was a playmaker by air and by land with 13 total TDs in just four games.

Yet, all of that was nearly one full year ago. Plenty could and probably has changed since then for both signal-callers. But all we have to go on right now is last year’s footage.

Or not. The connection into the external hard drive that holds my 2015 football footage (until late October) is not working. Great. Is this even fixable? The connecting wire works with the other hard drives, but this one is slightly damaged inside of the connection area. Who can fix this?

Well, there’s always YouTube. The first video is an entertaining, fairly long highlight reel nicely put together by a Yam fan. The rest are single-game clips featuring Young; I spliced those last year out of games I filmed.

If these clips look more like Kumoku Noa highlights than anything, that would be true. He was amazing in his senior campaign, and both passers wisely gave him plenty of chances to make plays.

The wild card in all this, of course, is that the offense is new and there’s no assumption that both QBs will master it sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do, however. Both quarterbacks were often masterful last season as underclassmen. They’re getting, more or less, equal reps in Coach Ma‘afala’s system.

Perhaps the most palpable numbers: as starters, Yam was 3-1 and Young was 1-3. All three losses in Young’s stints were against Top 3 teams. It is, as Ma‘afala says, an incredibly good problem to have.


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