By JOHN DeGROOTE
Everyone who has watched the classic high school football movie “Friday Night Lights” remembers the memorable line delivered by a coach before his team takes the field for the state championship: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
Much of the same is being preached by Konawaena head coach Cliff Walters.
“As a coach, having a guy with heart means so much more than talent,” Walters said. “Of course, talent helps, but at this level heart is what it is all about.”
The back-to-back defending BIIF Division II champions look vastly different than the team that took home the title just a year ago. The Wildcats graduated a whopping 26 seniors — including the Division II offensive and defensive players of the year — and are now looking for a youth movement to lead the way to a threepeat.
“You don’t have to tell these kids anything,” Walters said. “We won the title the last two years. When you come to a home game here, this place is packed. People expect Konawaena to win.”
In two preseason games, Walters has already been pleasantly surprised by his developing squad.
“We are smaller and younger, but the physicality is still high,” Walters said. “When you come into these exhibition games with a younger team — and we bit off two large opponents already — what you want to see is that you can put 11 guys on the field that can fight and never give up till the final horn sounds. I have found a whole bunch of guys who are willing to fight.”
“The beauty of this league this year is that you get to play everybody,” Walters said. “Four teams make the playoffs in each division. What we are working towards is that our young, inexperienced players will begin to peak toward the end of the season. Everything we are doing is building toward being a better team in the end.”
Senior Kamehameha-Hawaii transfer Brandon Howes takes over under center over for first-team All-BIIF selection Lii Karratti, who transferred to Kaiser (Oahu) in the offseason.
Howes split time as the starter for Kamehameha, but this season will be his first as a full-time starter.
The senior QB has already proven to be a weapon for Walters, passing for over 300-yards and multiple touchdowns in each of the Wildcats’ two preseason games.
“We are going to have to spread the ball around,” Walters said. “Our quarterback has a very good arm and his intelligence might be even better than his arm. We have been a passing team in the past and will be again this year.”
Illusive, undersized back Dishon Cho has received the majority of carries for the Wildcats. However, Walters anticipates the 5-foot-5, 145-pound back will receive additional help carrying the load from Bubba Ellis-Noa and Koa Basque, who have been held out of the preseason nursing injuries.
Howes favorite target is senior wide receiver Chase Takaki.
The speedy Takaki goes into crowds to bring down tough catches and has the ability to break off huge gains after the catch.
Against Maui, Takaki hauled in 13 catches for 187 yards and followed that up with a 137-yard performance against Hilo in Week 2 of the preseason.
Sophomore receiver Luca Vartic accompanies Takaki on the outside. At 6-foot-1,Vartic brings some size to the Wildcats passing game.
The lone freshman starter is center Kaiwi Zachary.
Returning first-team All-BIIF defensive lineman Makoa Chapa holds down the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats. As a sophomore, Chapa stifled opponents running games and gave quarterbacks headaches with his pass rush skills. Much of the same is expected this year from the 5-foot-10, 225-pound lineman.
Senior Evyn Yamaguchi is the standout in the middle of the Wildcats’ linebacker corps, and he’ll be flanked by Ellis-Noa and Basque.
Defensive back Cameron Howes —brother of Brandon — has developed into a playmaker for Konawaena on defense. While
inexperienced, the sophomore displayed a keen sense for the ball in the air and willingness to get in on tackles in the preseason.
No. Pos. Name
8 QB Brandon Howes
30 RB Koa Basque
5 RB Bubba Ellis-Noa
15 WR Chase Takaki
4 WR Luca Vartic
7 TE Kevin Medeiros
64 LT Makoa Chapa
54 LG Narain Gambir
55 C Zachary Kawai
53 RG Kea Miyahira-Young
77 RT Vincente Cancino
No. Pos. Name
7 DE Kevin Medeiros
66 DT Eric Edmund
64 DT Makoa Chapa
22 DE Nalu Loando
11 LB Bubba Ellis-Noa
40 LB Evyn Yamaguchi
30 LB Koa Basque
8 CB Brandon Howes
3 SS Jordan Miyahira-Young
25 SS Cameron Howes
15 SS Chase Takaki
8/30 at Kamehameha, 7:30 p.m.
9/6 HONOKAA, 7 p.m.
9/13 KEAAU, 7:30 p.m.
9/21 at Hawaii Prep, 2 p.m.
9/27 at Waiakea, 7:30 p.m.
10/4 HILO, 7:30 p.m.
10/11 at Kealakehe, 7:30 p.m.