Q&A: Rod York on life without Milton

Kaysen Higa has stepped in and kept Mililani moving forward since McKenzie Milton went down with a shoulder injury. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser
Kaysen Higa has stepped in and kept Mililani moving forward since McKenzie Milton went down with a shoulder injury. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser

On the topic of this season’s rash of injuries to quarterbacks, Mililani coach Rod York chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Monday night. His QB, all-state first-team selection McKenzie Milton, suffered a shoulder injury three weeks ago against Kailua.

HPW: Kaysen Higa has played well since stepping into McKenzie’s role. Is he locked in as the starter even though he alternated with Dillon Gabriel this past weekend against Moanalua?

York: Oh no, it’s open competition. It was going to be one quarter each. I know most people would look at it and say Kaysen locked it up because he played the whole Kailua game and did well overall. But on the same note, how did Dillon respond? It’s not easy to come into the Moanalua game cold. What he did was he makes it possible to run everything and he did well. Mentally he was there and moved the chains and gave us scores.

And when he came in, he was against the wind (at Moanalua). I called a long bomb to Kala (Timoteo), and it fluttered up there. I didn’t realize how strong that wind was. He can run the ball, too. I don’t think he knows how fast he is. I think he thinks he’s running in slow motion. So it’s definitely an open competition, just like every position.

HPW: When I spoke to Nolan for a story on backup quarterbacks, he said on the whole that this is probably a fluke, this growing number of QB injuries.

York: I don’t agree with that. Our QB’s bone was sticking up into the air. I think it’s the furthest from the truth. Injuries are part of the game and there are a lot occurring because the kids are bigger, faster and stronger. You don’t even know how big these kids are until you get on the field and wow. How big and athletic.

HPW: Yep, big boys like former Waianae D-tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii, who was 290 with great burst.

York: You’ve got to deal with it, adapt and next guy in. It’s happened at a lot of key positions and now it’s happening at QB. For Kenzie, it’s like boxing and MMA, he got hit by the guy he didn’t see. He had no clue.

HPW: The guy who sacked him was Christian Mejia, who goes around 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Good size with speed.

York: Yeah, it wasn’t the initial hit, but landing with the guy’s full weight on him.

HPW: With players getting bigger and bigger, and faster and faster, what’s the solution?

York: How we deal with that is to go uptempo, use short passes as long runs.

HPW: Your team has responded as best as could be expected to losing a team leader and playmaker.

York: You know, one consolation is that the guys rallied together and they played for the guy next to them. When they raise their play, they raise the play of others. Second-string giuys playing like first-string guys. It’s great to see them move forward.

HPW: The prognosis is for Kenzie to return in 3-5 weeks, but there’s going to be rehab after that, too, maybe?

York: If he heals, we’re not going to risk him getting hurt again. I’ll just listen to the doctors. Until then, we’ll roll with the two guys we’ve got now. Even if he comes back in championship week and he’s close but not fully healed, we won’t take a chance.

HPW: He’s got so much talent and ability. Between his sophomore year and his first year as a college QB, he will probably gain more muscle and poundage. That’s probably the only reason he hasn’t gotten more scholarship offers. (Note: Milton has offers from Hawaii, Air Force, Army and Navy.)

York: He’s got a lot to learn to become a better passer, deliver the ball better, be more like an Aaron Rodgers, a passer with the ability to scramble when he needs to. I’d rather have a guy like that rather than a Michael Vick or Colin Kaepernick.

HPW: Kaysen Higa — what do you like about him?

York: He’s learning every day and getting better. He’s improving. He came in the game (at Kailua) and helped get the job done and lead the team when we needed him. He’s got the experience. He chose not to play JV as a sophomore so he could learn to be the second quarterback and that’s what he’s got over Dillon right now — the experience. When he’s been the scout QB, we don’t hold back. We crank him. He’s taken a lot of shots and gotten better because of that.

Other people might not agree. That’s how McKenzie came up his freshman year. You fast-forward the learning curve real fast as a scout QB. In Kaysen’s development, my opinion, he’s moved forward so fast not having the best blockers. He’s gotten better with his reads, get the ball out quicker, handing off quicker. Now he’s with the starters, he’s around our best blockers and best receivers and best runner with Vae Malepeai. And that’s the reason why he’s doing so well.

Dillon, his release is perfect, over the top of the ball. It comes out nice. He’s coachable, listens, works hard. Does everything you want a QB to do. The thing about him, he’s mentally tough. We need to get him in the weight room and he’s got speed that he doesn’t know about yet.

HPW: I heard back from Dillon today and he credits his dad (Garrett Gabriel) and QB guru Joel Lane for helping him with passing technique.

York: Joel’s only thrown with him two weekends. Dillon was in on our eighth grade Mill Vill (junior league) team. So he’s had a lot of development on that. We run the same offense, the same reads. That’s why it’s easy for him to step in. Our JV finished first (OIA Blue) and he helped lead that team. We beat bigger teams that we we shouldn’t have with Dillon. We’re hoping to do the same on the varsity level.

HPW: You and your staff, the familes and supporters have invested a lot of energy into the Mill Vill program. It’s been just a few years, but the fruits of the labor are beginning to show. To me, it was a great way to develop players for your JV and varsity as the OIA’s transfer rule eventually kicked in (this past July).

York: We started out just to develop the players, not about the rule changes. It’s a Larry Ginoza thing. His Pop Warner teams ran the Wing-T. All his greatest players came from that league. We created a team to develop our players introduced to JV and varsity football as closely as possible. Dillon and other kids have come through that and it’s the first time our JV has finished first since I’ve been here.

In the GPS league, we beat a lot of big teams. We lost in the semifinals only by a TD to the Ewa Beach Sabers. They lost to Kahuku in the fourth quarter. We’re pretty much competitive. We brought up our best receiver and DB (to Mililani’s varsity roster) because we needed corners. Then we brought up Dillon to compete and see if he can make our other QB better and move our offense.


  1. TGOD October 6, 2015 9:38 pm

    Mililani on top! #TGOD

  2. Lee Boy October 7, 2015 2:07 pm

    Excellent job setting up mill villa football. The future looks Brite for the Trojans.

  3. Manly October 7, 2015 4:28 pm

    Wise words coach. Milton needs to heal 120%. I’m a RedRaider fan, but have respect for Milton. Yeah I’ll cheer for Kahuku, but I really want to see Milton excel at the college level. Once these kids leave Hawaii we want to see them do good. Coach York and all coaches in the OIA are to be commended for their commitment to their teams. The result of hard work like coach York and staff is a very successful football program. Mahalo Coach. Good job.

  4. TGOD October 7, 2015 7:14 pm

    Well said Manly, I look forward to seeing him play at the next level as well. Especially if he is playing for UH. Talented and humble kid who’s pretty much accomplished everything in his high school career. And yes, much props to the coaches who guide these young men and look out for them.

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