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‘Iolani Will Try to Repeat Success of 2021

Friday, July 29, 2022 | By Nick Abramo

No matter how good the ‘Iolani football team turns out to be this year, it’s going to be hard to top the achievement of 2021.

That’s because if you look at the scores from last year, you’ll see that the Raiders outclassed all opponents in going 11-0 and taking the koa trophy for the Division I state championship.

In two state tournament games, ‘Iolani didn’t give up a point. The closest any team came to topping the Raiders occurred in the middle of the season, but it was still a 15-point 35-20 difference against Kamehameha’s second varsity team. Another relatively tight matchup came in the state semifinals, where the Raiders still rolled by a 21-0 score over Aiea.

For coach Wendell Look, the job is still the same: discipline, team bonding, tightly scripted X’s and O’s, unyielding defense and a healthy mix of straight ahead running and move-the-chains passing.

In a word: systematic.

“I think every team in the state has the goal of winning their league championship and getting to the playoffs and winning the state championship,” Look said. “How you get there is the key. It’s all about the journey and the path that you choose to take, figuring out what steps are necessary to reach these goals.”

‘Iolani Head Coach Wendell Look

Starting his 31st season as the head man, Look has had many of those journeys, more than most. Prior to last year’s breakthrough to the D-I state title, he led the Raiders to eight D-II state crowns.

Every season brings a new dynamic, though, and Look is fortunate to have plenty of veterans back.

“It’s kind of early to tell,” the coach said about the team’s fortunes for 2021 during a Tuesday practice session at Kozuki Stadium. “We have a good mix of returnees and young guys and a handful of first-time players. It’s a new year, so it’s a matter of molding and shaping them into who they want to become.”

In case you didn’t notice, Look’s words so far reflect a lot of his overall philosophy in which players are the ones who determine their own fate.

And, as he already mentioned, the coaches do that molding, part of which comes in the form of conditioning drills.

“We pride ourselves on being in great physical condition,” the coach added. “That has to be the priority. Size, obviously, is not something we have much of. The returnees on both sides of the ball, we’ll rely on them to set the standard of how we’re going to play. It’s early yet. You really never know what to expect until you put the pads on and start competing. As always, that’s the exciting part — seeing it all come together and growing on its own. Right now, every position is a competition for them to put the work in and prove themselves. Players at every position will be earning their playing time, regardless of whether they’re veterans or first-time guys.”

The quarterback position is solid, with Micah Hoomanawanui and Kualau Manuel, both who saw a lot of playing time in ’21, back in the fold. And another one at the position is CJ Villaneuva.

“We’re fortunate to have three guys competing there,” Look said.

Among the many other players who have the potential to be impact players for ‘Iolani in 2022 are receiver Tristan Martinez, slotback Taniela Taliauli, running back Keao Miyahira, offensive linemen Luke Ravizza and Brodie Iwasaki, hybrids (defensive back/linebacker) Asher Matsui, Jacob Gaudi, Brayden Morioka and Bronson Morioka, and defensive linemen Ha’aheo Dela Cruz and Casey Honbo.

“We’re restarting a new year, so coaches are emphasizing that we’re starting from the bottom and building back up,” Matsui, said. “We’re trying to repeat our success and be as dominant as last year, not losing any games and having shutouts.”

Gaudi added: “I think it’s important to create a new identity with a lot of new guys just starting and we need to help ‘em out. It’s important to be consistent at practice, come out here every day, work hard and have fun.”

Allison Chang, an accurate place-kicker, also returns.

“We’ve got some veterans in good spots,” coach Look said. “But it takes 11 guys to play. Bringing them along is the key right now. It will be up to those veterans to bring the others along and get them up to speed as quickly as we can.”

The Raiders have two non-league games against OIA opponents — at Kaiser next Friday and at Castle on Aug. 26 — before opening ILH competition at home on Sept. 9 against Saint Louis II.

‘Iolani hybrid defenders Asher Matsui, Bronson Morioka and Jacob Gaudi

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