Monday, August 1, 2022 | By Nick Abramo
A heightened sense of exhilaration was evident in the faces Kamehameha fans in 2021.
And those Warriors will always be one to remember in state lore. They did something that hadn’t been done by any team since Punahou in 2014 — beat Saint Louis twice in one season.
But the jubilation Kamehameha was gearing up for didn’t pan out. Instead of advancing to the state tournament for the first time since winning it all in 2009, the Warriors were beaten by those Crusaders 41-7 in the second round of the ILH playoffs and again in the league championship game, 35-21.
If you are a Kamehameha player, that’s got to put a real hunger in your belly.
This fall, the Warriors will be trying to be the ILH team that moves on to represent the league at the state tournament.
“I’m so proud of that group of seniors,” coach Abu Ma’afala said last week while taking a quick look back before talking about some things to expect from the 2022 edition of the team. “Some of those kids were seventh-graders when I first took over this job. It was an awesome sight to see, after getting the right staff together and watching them do a fabulous job of getting the players to buy in together.”
Taking an example from a highly successful college coach, Ma’afala is putting even more emphasis on the close-knit aspect of playing as a team and working together toward the same goal while building solid interpersonal relationships.
“We were just talking about those things one morning,” Ma’afala added. “It’s every team’s goal to be a state champion. That’s always our goal. Now, we’re trying to unpack why we want that. It’s not just the accolade. We’re focusing intently on the relationships that they have with each other. Coach Kirby Smart at Georgia believes that’s what can give you an edge over everybody. In our league, the talent is very similar and the coaching ability is very similar, so you’ve got to look for an edge and it behooves you to try to develop those relationships.”
Senior Keali’i Ah Yat, who has committed to play at Division I FCS Montana, returns at quarterback, and there’s a new wrinkle in the Kamehamaha offense this year. His dad, Brian Ah Yat — a former star for the Grizzlies — is the new offensive coordinator, taking over for Billy Borengasser, who was a Kamehameha coach when Ma’afala was a senior there.
“It’s great to have Keali’i back,” Ma’afala said. “He’s got the physical tools and does a great job. It isn’t always about throwing the ball. He brings leadership and he knows how to handle our guys. He’s working really hard at being a total quarterback.”
Another key returnee on what Ma’afala said is a deep offensive unit is junior slotback Raiden Morris.
Sheyden Iokia, a senior H-back who was a large part of the 2021 Warriors’ offense while blocking for the now-graduated Noah Bartley, also returns.
Senior left tackle Scotty Dikilato — the 285-pound state wrestling champion from March — and senior Kapala Pilialoha are among the leaders on a relatively young offensive line.
“I’m really confident we can have a really good rotation at every position (on offense),” the coach said.
Junior Moe Passi and senior Sunrise Solatorio are among the team’s top running backs.
“They are the hardest working position group,” Ma’afala said. “They go 100 yards trying to drag a strapped on sandbag while the other guy will be trying to punch out the ball.”
Defensively, nine senior starters from 2021 have moved on.
“But we’ve got a lot of up-and-coming guys,” the coach said.
Senior linebacker Brennan Dupio, who Ma’afala calls the heart of the defense, is taking on a new leadership role, and Rayson Lum is also one of the key cogs among that linebacker unit.
After making the move to defense, junior Nazaiah Caravallo-Lawelawe is expected to be a big help as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. He was a quarterback for the Kamehameha II varsity team last year.
Junior Kilinahe Wong and senior Pono Kinilau are two of the veteran defensive backs returning.
The season opener is a big one — a trip to defending Open Division state champion Kahuku for a non-league game Saturday. Then, after two weeks off, Kamehameha hosts Moanalua on Aug. 26 before opening up the league slate Sept. 10 at home against Saint Louis.
Ma’afala and his Kamehameha players tasted quite a bit of success in 2021, not as much as they had hoped. But there were lessons learned.
“We can’t rest on what we did last year,” he said. “All we can do is use the example to help navigate us into the future.”
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