By J.R. DE GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
The Kealakehe football program is officially in rebuilding mode.
Veteran head coach Sam Papalii turned in his letter of resignation Wednesday afternoon, officially ending his second stint at the helm for the Waveriders.
“There was a difference of philosophies between me and the guy up top,” Papalii said. “I can’t put forth the commitment to this program I’m accustomed to, so I’m forced to step away.”
For the first time in more than a decade, the Waveriders concluded the season with a losing record (4-6), and saw Hilo run away with the Division I BIIF championship.
Over eight seasons as head coach, Papalii compiled a 51-18-1 regular season record at Kealakehe and brought home three BIIF championship banners, including the school’s first in 2004.
Kealakehe athletic director Mike Hernandez said he was surprised by Papalii’s decision to step down.
“We are going to miss him,” Hernandez said. “You cannot ask for a harder working guy. He has always been someone who is well prepared and committed to the program. And for him it’s not only about football and teaching the sport to young men, but he’s committed to making them successful in life as well.”
Papalii saw dozens of his players pursue the game at the next level, including 17 athletes from the school’s 2012 championship squad. A handful of his pupils earned full-ride scholarships, including 2007 graduate Levi Legay who played four seasons as an offensive lineman with the University of Hawaii.
“Coach Papalii was instrumental in my progress as a player on the field, and a person away from it,” Legay said. “He opened a lot of doors for me and was a great mentor. To this day he still follows up with me to see how I’m doing.”
Papalii said he informed his team that he would step down in the locker room after the 21-10 loss to Hilo in the BIIF championship game earlier this month, but is still on campus and involved with his players. This weekend, he will accompany Kealakehe offensive lineman Tavita “Tui” Eli on his official visit to UH. Eli was offered a scholarship from UH in October.
“I love this game, it’s in my blood,” Papalii said. “I still feel like I have a lot of years left to coach, but I don’t want to be a head coach at this time.”
A long-time college assistant, Papalii said he is keeping the door open to return to the college ranks or if another opportunity arises. However, Kealakehe is left with a head coaching vacancy.
Hernandez said the school hopes to fill the coaching position before the new year.
Qualified candidates should contact Hernandez at 960-2809 or firstname.lastname@example.org to receive an official application. The due date for all applications is Dec. 14.