Thursday, August 24, 2022 | By Nick Abramo
It’s not unusual to see two kids the size of grown men starting at quarterback in a high school football game.
What’s surprising is that two who fit that description are also freshmen and they were combatants in the same game last Saturday night.
So there they were: Moanalua’s Tayden-Evan Kaawa on one side and Damien’s AJ Tuifua on the other in what turned out to be a 16-7 Na Menehune win over the Monarchs.
Casual fans not familiar with either player would be likely at first glance to assume they were seniors — not only because of their size but also due to the poise they played with.
There, though, the similarity ends. In animal terms, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Kaawa is lean and agile like a panther, and the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Tuifua is muscular and powerful like a bull.
In Saturday’s game, Tuifua struggled with a handful of overthrows (15-for-36 for 145 yards, three interceptions), but it was also while facing off against the best defensive unit he’s seen.
In two previous games combined, both wins, he was 41-for-82 for 467 yards, five TDS and three interceptions.
“He’s going to get it,” Monarchs coach Anthony Tuitele said. “Once he finds his rhythm and confidence and groove inside our offense, the sky’s the limit for him and our offense.”
Added teammate, two-way Damien standout Sylas Alaimano: “It’s just the beginning for (Tuifua). It’s his first year on varsity, so it’s only going to go up from here for him.”
Meanwhile, Kaawa is locked in a battle for Na Menehune’s starting spot against senior Cade Rodriguez. The freshman got the start against Damien after Rodriguez got the nod in Moanalua’s season opener, a 35-0 loss to Punahou, and also in a game-like scrimmage against Kalani.
“He’s a really good athlete and also a really good baseball player from what I’ve heard,” Na Menehune coach Vince Nihipali said about Kaawa. “He got out of some big predicaments (against Damien) with his feet. Really, the kid is a phenom. Cade does a good job, too. They battle every day and I’m sure that is going to keep going throughout the week. They’re both good kids with great attitudes. It’s going to be whoever wins the battle.”
Against the Monarchs, Kaawa went 12-for-25 for 139 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Previously, in spot duty against the Buff ’N Blue, he went 7-for-13 for 54 yards.
After Saturday’s game, Kaawa talked more about Moanalua as a team than he did about himself, but he did say this about Tuifua, “He was a good quarterback to go against.”
The two freshmen look like they’re having a blast as youngsters out on the field as high school football quarterbacks for the first time and leading kids one, two and three years older.
“It’s an opportunity many freshmen don’t get,” Tuifua said. “I’m just going to go through my reads and get better and just have fun and play.”
Kaawa’s Na Menehune squad (1-1) returns to action Friday in a non-league game at Kamehameha (0-1). Tuifua’s Monarchs (2-1) don’t play again until Sept. 10 in an ILH game against Pac-Five (2-0).
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