Tuesday, August 2, 2022 | By Nick Abramo
Mililani’s magical season with future college star quarterback McKenzie Milton was eight years ago.
That was 2014, when the Trojans shook up the state football status quo and broke through for the state top-tier championship with a 53-45 victory over Punahou.
But even though York’s Trojans have never duplicated the feat, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been giving it a full-out effort. They certainly have put the required work in and put as many of the strongest opponents York can find on the schedule.
In 2018, Mililani made it all the way to the Open Division finale only to lose 38-17 to Saint Louis. And last season, the Trojans suffered two heart-breaking losses in the stretch run.
After starting quarterback Treston McMillan went down with an injury early in the campaign, backup Emana Tarape kept the offensive ship afloat while the defensive unit played lights out. In the end, the Trojans lost to eventual Open state champion Kahuku 21-14 in the OIA championship game and then dropped a 27-25 decision to eventual runner-up Saint Louis in the state semis.
And in York’s mind, the fact that Mililani won the state Division I (middle tier) title in 2016 was a mere consolation prize compared to that glorious 2014 season.
Year after year, the grind goes on.
“Nothing much changes,” York told ESPN Honolulu last week. “As coaches at this point in the season, it’s all about getting the kids jelling and playing together and teaching them to stop being individuals. We always expect to win it (all) and we always expect to be in it. And it always gets tougher because all of the other Open teams get tougher. Just within our league, it’s tough to get a win. Kahuku is always good. Kapolei has some new (assistant) coaches, including Bobby George (the former Saint Louis star) as the offensive coordinator, so I think they’re going to be more productive. Waianae’s got new coaches, too.”
York is super proud of how far his team got last year.
“Kini (McMillan) got hurt early and Mana stepped right in without ever having taken a varsity snap and led us to the OIA championship game,” York said. “And we were a couple of minutes away from winning the state semifinals against Saint Louis. That’s not easy to do when your tarter goes down. We were still there at the end.”
McMillan, now only a sophomore, and Tarape, a senior, are both back at quarterback for the Trojans.
“Now, they’re veterans and both have their own strengths,” the coach said. “Kini is mobile and can throw and run. He’s got a great attitude. Never down. Always positive. Mana is more of a thrower and he’s a leader. He’s vocal and he goes to work every day.”
Gavin Hunter, a hard-nosed cornerback and safety who also plays wide receiver and was a huge part of Mililani’s success in 2021, is back for his senior season before he’ll be off to play for Arizona next year.
Two words he said, stick out as the most memorable during his interview with ESPN Honolulu: “Unfinished business.”
“The big thing for us — and the coaches have been been talking to us about it — is unfinished business,” Hunter said. “As a team, we all believe that. We have stuff we didn’t get to finish last year. We’ve still got stuff we’ve got to prove. We want to take that next step. As a competitor, you never like to lose big games like that in the (league) championship and (state) semis. Those were big losses, but I feel like it was a blessing in disguise because it really motivated us to grind harder than we’ve ever done all this spring and summer.”
Among the many other returning impact players for the Trojans are slotback Raymond Roller, wideout Isaiah Padello, two-way linemen BJ Leapaga, Jerahmyah Ma’afala, and Tavanni Tafisi, linebackers Kamaehu Roman and Isaiah Iosefa, and strong safety Jordan Fetu.
Roller is only 5 feet 6, but, according to York, he can run a 4.4 40-yard dash.
The Trojans open the season at home with a major test against Saint Louis on Friday.
A game against Mission Viejo of California follows on Aug. 12, and then comes a non-league game against OIA D-I team Kailua at home on Aug. 20 before the league opener against Campbell Aug. 27. All of those games are at home.
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