By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
There is excitement in the air, and the small-town Pahala community is buzzing about Ka‘u High’s historic debut with 8-man football, three fewer players than the regular edition, but packed with far more fireworks.
The Trojans kick off a six-game schedule, with the possibility of a seventh contest, at 6 p.m. today at home against Seabury Hall, from the Maui Interscholastic League.
“We’re all excited, the coaches, the players, the parents, the community,” Ka‘u coach DuWayne Ke said. “It’s the first time for 8-man. We can’t wait.
“It was really hard for us at first. Nobody heard of 8-man football. But since we’ve been practicing I kind of like it. It’s a fast game. It’s all about speed, not power.”
In one MIL game last year, Seabury Hall defeated first-year member Hana 48-8.
The Spartans switched to 8-man football in 2011. There are now four MIL teams: Seabury Hall, Molokai, Hana and St. Anthony.
Ke is anticipating a huge turnout, and hoping that other Big Island Interscholastic Federation potential candidates like Kohala and Pahoa join the crowd.
If not, the Trojans plan to keep rolling with 8-man football. For one thing, Ka‘u athletic director Kalei Namohala is already hard at work setting up a home-and-home series with the MIL teams. Also, Ke likes the closer connection with his roster of 22 players.
“It’s more hands-on and you can teach the kids about football more,” he said. “If you have a small roster for 11-man, and guys get hurt we would have to forfeit games.
“If you get a team with 18 or 19 players, the kids can play 8-man football and there’s less stress for coaches and staff at smaller schools. I hope our other smaller schools see what we’re doing and join, too.”
The field’s width is shorter at 40 yards instead of a regular 53 yards, but the length of 100 yards is the same for both formats. The four 12-minute quarters are also the same.
In 11-man, seven offensive players are required at the line of scrimmage. In 8-man, it’s five and an offense can overload one side with two guards, creating all sorts of matchup problems. On the opposite of the ball, speed is a requirement to not only diagnose a play, but defend it as well.
Ke works for the highways division, so he knows all about going from one place to another and finding the best possible route.
He’ll have the Trojans in a split-back set, with seniors Anthony Emmsley-Ah Yee (5 feet 7 inches and 136 pounds) and Tala‘i Ke (5-9, 213), the coach’s son who got the job by audition, and serious determination, after dropping 70 pounds.
“Tala‘i worked hard all summer,” Ke said. “I treat everyone equal. When you try out for a position, the coaching staff that works with the running backs or quarterbacks tell me how they’re graded. Both of them are strong and fast with this offense. With only three linemen, it’s really fast.
“We’ll have a split formation and the spread. We’ll be doing a lot of option with it being a faster game. The majority of plays you’re running down holes on an option.”
Chance Emmsley-Ah Yee (5-8, 131) will start at quarterback. The senior was the starting QB last season. Junior wide receiver Cy Tamura (5-9, 178) will also take snaps at the signal-caller position.
The coach’s other son, junior Kainalu Ke (6-0, 258), will start on the line, along with seniors Walter Espejo (5-8, 251) and center Derrick “Bubba” Velez (5-8, 220).
“They all played for me last year,” said Ke, the second-year coach. “They work good together, all three of them. They’re good at everything, pass and run blocking.”
Makana Gravella (5-7, 128) will be the other receiver. He’s only a sophomore, one of four for the Trojans, who finished 1-8 last season in the BIIF. (Kohala went 0-8 and isn’t playing football this season.)
“There are a lot of different rules and I stayed up late reading and learning the program from other schools,” Ke said. “Thanks to Molokai, Seabury and Hana, they’ve been helping me a lot, explaining stuff to me, like what kind of offense you can run.
“When I heard you can throw two guards on an offset line, that’s an important question because I wanted to learn how to defend it. I wouldn’t want my kids to go up against something they don’t know and bang, touchdown.”
The Trojans are running a 4-4 set with four linemen and four linebackers. The benefit is immediate blitz pressure. The drawback is there’s no third-level safety net with a center fielder.
However, the home team can adjust on the fly to counter whatever weapon the Spartans bring to Pahala.
The two Ke brothers will be on the line, along with Kaweni Ibarra (5-10, 157) and RJ Kahele (5-6, 148), a pair of juniors and promising nucleus for next season with Kainalu Ke.
The linebackers are juniors Rigan Kaapana (5-6, 140) and Chisum Silva (5-8, 135), freshman Kaliimaka Aipia Dolan (5-8, 151), and senior Carlos Ornelas (5-8, 135), a transfer from Kealakehe.
“The defense is fast, they play hard and they have goals for themselves,” Ke said. “I told them, ‘Show me your goals on the field.’ At practice, they’ve stopped my offense. That’s pretty good.”
There figures to be a lot of scoring with more open space to defend. The Spartans are experienced; the Trojans are not. At one point last season, Seabury Hall was riding a six-game MIL winning streak.
Besides speed, stamina is another major factor in 8-man football. With less traffic, teams can easily design isolation plays, either running or passing. Even with a smash-mouth style, there will be more room to run — that usually equals touchdowns and fireworks.
Fully filled water bottles would be a big priority. Being in great shape would be helpful, too. Ke highlighted that part as a Trojan strength.
“During conditioning, we had 18 of them, basically the whole team, weight training, getting ready for 11-man,” he said. “Then we had 8-man and the power game went out and the speed game came in.
“It’s more about conditioning with this one here. It’s more about speed. We’ll see how we do Friday night.”
Besides the Ka‘u coach and his two sons, mom Tammy Ke is also involved with Trojans football. She’s listed as a volunteer assistant, but a bigger role is her duty overseeing study hall.
“Football helps us with our kids,” Namohala said. “All of it was done in two weeks, going from 11- to 8-man football. It’s an opportunity for our kids to stay focused on academics. One of the volunteer coaches, Marcus Douglas, is a teacher and we use his class for study hall.”
The home opener is a major event for the Trojans, but also exciting is the team’s trip to Molokai for a rare interisland game.
They fly out Friday, Oct. 4 to Maui, drive to Lahaina, catch a ferry to the Friendly Isle and sleep at Molokai High’s gym that night. (Former Laupahoehoe AD Hoku Haliniak is the Molokai AD.)
The Trojans play the Farmers at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5. After the game, they’ll hop on the ferry back to the Valley Isle. They’re hoping to catch an MIL game that night. Lahainaluna is scheduled to play at 7 p.m. at King Kekaulike that day.
Ka‘u will fly home on Sunday, ending a whirlwind three days of ferry riding, flying and playing another historic game of 8-man football on Molokai for the first time.
It’s believed to be only the second time the Trojans have traveled off island to play a football game. Ka‘u (then named Pahala) is a charter member of the BIIF, which started in 1956; the other schools were Hilo, Honokaa and Kohala.
The Trojans will also play the Kamehameha and Kealakehe junior varsity teams in 8-man football, and Molokai and possibly Hana, also from the MIL.
“The kids’ hearts were all crushed, really bad when we shut down football,” coach Ke said. “Then up came 8-man football. Thanks to Kamehameha, Kealakehe, Molokai, Seabury Hall and Hana, they’ve made our kids’ dreams come true. They can play football.”
Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for seniors, $1 for students in kindergarten to eighth grade, and free for Ka‘u students with a BIIF pass.
There will be a concession at the game, with proceeds to benefit the Ka‘u football team.
The Trojans are fundraising for a trip to Molokai. To make a donation or for more information, call Namohala at 982-2012.
SEABURY HALL, 6 p.m.
KEALAKEHE JV, 6 p.m.
at Kamehameha JV, 2 p.m.
at Molokai, 11 a.m.
at Kealakehe JV, 6 p.m.
Nov. 1 or 2
MOLOKAI, 6 p.m. (homecoming/senior night)
home games in caps