New St. Francis football coach Kip Akana is taking up where Mike Ulufale left off.
Three years ago, the Saints’ varsity football program didn’t exist. Ulufale got them through the infancy against notoriously powerful ILH teams in two winless seasons.
There is more than a glimmer of hope for the future. Guiding St. Francis’ intermediate football team, Akana went 13-7 the past three seasons (13-1 in the last two), and many of the varsity players going into the 2015 season have played under him.
“St. Francis football started under Mike’s vision,” Saints co-athletic director Chad Konishi said. “We are sad to see him leave and we thank him for his contribution. The program wouldn’t be where it is today without him.
“We are obviously excited about having Kip as our varsity coach. The team is going to be sophomore and junior heavy. Many of them have played for Kip and they love playing for him.”
On the phone Monday, Ulufale said he left the head coaching position for family reasons.
“I wish the best for St. Francis football,” he said.
Akana estimated last year’s varsity program had more than 40 players, with 35 on the intermediate. Healthy numbers.
“I think we are right where we need to be,” Akana said. “We will work off of what Mike established, continue to be committed to the kids as we ask them to commit to us.”
Akana feels as though a new ILH rule separating Division I from D-II for league games will be beneficial. Previously, St. Francis was competing for the D-II title, but playing regular-season games against teams from both levels. Now, the Saints will not be playing against ILH D-I teams, perennial powerhouses Punahou, Kamehameha and Saint Louis.
In addition, St. Francis won’t be going up against ‘Iolani, winners of 11 straight ILH D-II titles, next season. The Raiders are moving up to the top level.
“The change in rules sets up favorably for us,” Akana said. “If we find some success and instill the (football) culture, then … maybe some day we can play in Division I too.”
Sister Joan of Arc Souza, the St. Francis principal, really helps, he added.
“She loves football and is so supportive of the program,” Akana said. “She is the reason why we have football. (Before her) no one even thought about having a football team.”
St. Francis was an all-girls school until it announced it was adding boys in 2006. The school became fully co-ed in 2012-13.
St. Francis, wearing its Carolina Blue and white, went 0-6 in the ILH a year ago and 2-7 overall, with the wins coming against South Alberta (56-0) and Keaau (33-14).
Against ILH D-II teams in 2014, the Saints lost 26-21 to Pac-Five, 46-18 to Damien and 28-6 to ‘Iolani.
Earlier this spring, Akana was named the ILH Division II baseball coach of the year, leading the Saints to an 8-7 record.