Saturday, July 30, 2022 | By Nick Abramo
A 1-4 football season like Punahou had in 2021 is not going to cut it on campus.
Granted, that lowest of lows in terms of wins and losses for the Buff ’N Blue came during the year after COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season and left most teams scrambling to prepare their players during a health crisis shutdown. It also came in Nate Kia’s first year as head coach.
But you won’t see any of Punahou’s ILH Open Division opponents looking past what is always a very athletic bunch of Buff ‘B Blue players. That’s because they always come to play. And despite the losses, that’s pretty much what they did all of last year. After a season-opening 33-28 win over Kamehameha in the first game played in Hawaii in nearly two years, the four-game slide included two fiercely competitive defeats — 35-28 to those Warriors and 27-21 to eventual Open state runner-up Saint Louis.
“We were pretty competitive every game until we lost (star linebacker Tevarua) Tafiti (now at Stanford) for the last game (a 35-0 league playoff loss to the Crusaders),” Kia said during practice Tuesday. “That was a tough one to end the season. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about our personnel. We had some young players and we hardly had an opportunity to assess them in a shortened season.”
Let it be known that all five games were against the iron of the ILH, one of the most competitive leagues in the country.
“So far so good,” Kia said about the preparation to date. “Having a year together, we got a lot of work done in offseason training. The guys are really getting to know each other, chemistry-wise. Our expectation is that we have improved. We were competitive for the most part as a young team last year and we’re still a young team. We’re really looking forward to the season.”
Unlike 2021, the Buff ’N Blue will get four non-league road contests under their belts before going into the ILH cauldron. They open at Waipahu, an OIA Division I team, on Aug. 5. Then comes Moanalua, a team moving up from OIA D-I to Open — on Aug. 13. Over the following three weeks, Punahou visits Castle, another OIA D-I squad, on Aug. 19 and then it’s off to Waianae and Kahuku of the OIA Open on Aug. 26 and Sept. 3.
The hope for Kia is that the Buff ’N Blue will be battle-tested before lining up for their first league game — Sept. 17 against Saint Louis at Farrington’s Skippa Diaz Stadium.
Incumbent quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele, a senior and a University of Hawaii commit, returns as does another talented guy at the position, junior Ty McCutcheon.
“It’s a solid position group, with two very capable guys,” Kia said. “John is our leader and has been starting since his freshman year. He’s one of the few guys who has been with us since before COVID all the way until now. That is a great source of continuity for us. Ty is also an excellent football player.”
As usual, the Buff ’N Blue have some speedy, shifty, athletic receivers. This year, that group is led by junior Astin Hange and senior Ean Kamau-Waikiki.
At running back, look for power more than escapability with juniors Iosepa Lyman and Ala’i Williams, and the offensive line will be anchored by juniors Tui Muti and Caleb Rhinelander and sophomore KJ Hallums.
Among Punahou’s defensive playmakers, according to Kia, are: senior defensive end Kielan Siamani, junior defensive tackle Fua Ioane, junior linebacker Kekai Burnett, senior linebacker Giancarlo Rufo, junior linebacker Alika Cavaco-Amoy, senior defensive back Travis Ross and junior DBs Agenhart Ellis and Terahiti Wolfe.
Another player, sophomore linebacker Ko’o Kia, the coach’s son, could be an impact player. He already has three D-I FBS college offers from USC, Utah and Hawaii.
As of right now, Burnett has five college options next season, with Arizona, Oregon and Arizona State among the schools who have offered.
According to coach Kia, Punahou senior John Kapisi is one of the best place-kickers in the state.
As for team goals, Kia will eventually sit down with his players and formulate those.
“Let them have ownership in the process,” he said. “Obviously, we want to win every time we take the field, and we definitely want to work on accomplishing that in the right way. There is much less interruption and more normalcy this year.”
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