By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hawaii Prep coach Jordan Hayslip doesn’t like to use the term rebuilding, so it was fitting how the 2012 season unfolded.
With a plethora of starters to replace, the Ka Makani started out as a team that certainly looked in rebuild mode. But it became evident as the season went along that HPA was building toward something as it picked up steam, especially offensively, and finished 3-2 during the second half of the season.
A loss at Kamehameha in the first half turned into a victory at home in the second half. After getting manhandled by Konawaena early in the season at home, Ka Makani went to Kealakekua and gave the Wildcats a scare later in the year in a 56-49 loss.
“I think we were very young last year, some guys got their feet under them and started to become better football players,” Hayslip said.
It appears that a foundation was set for promising things in 2013.
Led by what Hayslip refers to a “great senior class,” HPA returns one of the most inexperienced rosters on the island, so it’s no surprise that mood has changed a bit for the better compared to last season.
“With the senior leadership, it feels a little different in that way,” said Hayslip, who’s team went 2-0 in the preseason.
HPA’s roster is at 36, which is about par for the course in Waimea, including 15 seniors.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is Ka Makani’s offensive philosophy. The mantra continues to be power, power, power. And with Bobby Lum in the fold, why not?
Koa Ellis took the reins midseason and played no small role in the team’s offensive transformation.
The athletic junior will contribute to HPA’s running game, but he can also keep opposing defenses honest with his arm if they jam the line of scrimmage.
“He makes good decision and he’s a good leader for us, even as a junior,” Hayslip said.
The Ka Makani aren’t trying to fool anyone.
“We’re going to run the ball and give it to Bobby,” Hayslip said.
One of the most bruising backs on the island, the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Lum is the perfect tailback to fuel HPA’s power run game.
The coaches like calling his number, and the offensive line enjoys blocking for him.
“I think he’s a fun guy to block for, because they know he’s going to run hard,” Hayslip said.
Senior Mike Nakahara can play fullback or in the slot.
Senior Kellen Gillins is the BIIF’s reigning champion in the 800 meters in track and field, while the 6-4 Nicky Palleschi provides a big target at tight end.
There other spot at wideout is up for grabs, with senior Connor Peterson in the mix.
All the starters are seniors, and the the left side of the line is particulary strong.
Tackle Keenan Greenbaum, 6-3, 275, is perhaps HPA’s best college prospect, and Alexandro Siordia also returns as a starter at guard.
Center Sione Moniati is the biggest of the bunch at 290 pounds.
Greenbaum also will be a lynchpin on this side of the ball in the middle of the line, and Hayslip likes the versatility that Joshua Ching, who can also play linebacker, brings at defensive tackle.
“He’ll put his hand down and is a real good defensive player,” Hayslip said.
Palleschi’s height comes in handy at defensive end, while counterpart Caleb Kagawa is shorter but quicker.
Lum and senior Mike Nakahara will team up in the backfield and at linebacker, and both are adept at using leverage to fight off would-be blockers.
The unit also will feature Joey Kailimai, and Hayslip was happy how the group stood to Waimea’s physical run game in a 13-8 victory in the preseason.
Senior Blake Hooser will not only play corner, but he’s also a threat as a return man, while the other cornerback, Justin Perry, is the only sophomore slated to start on the team.
Hayslip is excited about what Lii Purdy brings at free safety.
For probable starters and schedule, see www.hawaiitribune-herald.com