By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
A year ago under coach David Baldwin, Hilo High pushed perennial Division I powerhouse Kealakehe to the limit before missing out on a league title and state tournament berth.
That was a mighty jump from the previous season when the Vikings finished with an 0-10 record. But once Baldwin took over the football program last year, Hilo’s rise to contend with the powerful Waveriders was fast and furious.
Now, in his second season on the job, Baldwin and his disciplined Vikings hope to knock off Kealakehe and become the D-I team to beat in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation. But until Hilo can prove it on the field, the driven Baldwin points to the Waveriders as the top team on the island.
“The top of the mountain belongs to Kealakehe,” Baldwin said. “They have continued and repeated their D-I dominance, and until someone beats them, they’re the champions.
“Last year, we played them three times and we were close. We missed out on the state tournament berth. This year, we’ve set our goals and if we can match potential with performance, we could do something special.”
Baldwin believes a year in his system will help the returning Vikings and he has some newcomers who will bolster the roster.
“We’ve progressed a lot since last year,” the Hilo coach said. “I’m happy with the team following what we believe can help make them a championship caliber team. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. From a conditioning standpoint, a football IQ standpoint, and a confidence standpoint, we’re a better team and hopefully can put it all together on the football field.”
Baldwin will look to seniors Jon Salzman, John Funaki and Jason Tara-Antone for leadership. “They are leaders by example,” he said.
But Hilo has a lot of athletes at the skilled positions and that could translate into a productive season, potentially a championship and finally knocking Kealakehe off the D-I mountaintop.
“We’re excited and looking ahead to a fun ride,” Baldwin said. “It’s all going to come down to executing on every single play, being fundamentally solid, and having the mental toughness to make it happen.”
The Vikings will start junior Donavan Kelley (5-foot-7, 170) at quarterback with junior Sione Atuekaho (6-2, 187) as a capable backup. When one starts, the other will play wide receiver in Hilo’s potent offense.
“Donovan and Sione are having a heated competition for starting quarterback,” Baldwin said. “Both are really good athletes, and they’ll play somewhere in a skill position no matter who starts at QB.”
The coach said Kelley has shown leadership qualities and in making decisive decisions in the Vikings’ quick-hitting attack.
“Donovan has been able to make quick decisions in the passing game, and that’s been his biggest growth,” Baldwin said. “He’s always been able to move with his feet, but this year he’ll be a dual threat.
“Sione has good size, a great football IQ, and he understands our system well. He’s got a big upside.”
Baldwin said the Vikings will look to have a balanced offense this year, mixing the pass with the run.
Last year’s starting QB, junior Drew Kell, moved to Oregon and is playing football there this season
Four Vikings are battling for playing time at running back. They are Craighlen “Malu” Lapilio (5-9, 205, So.), Tristin Spikes (5-8, 175, Jr.), Justyn Frias (5-5, 134, Jr.) and Jacob Thome (5-6, 140, Jr.). Lapilio appears to be a step ahead of the other trio, with Spikes, Frias and Thome looking to produce any time they carry the ball.
Frias recently moved from Texas back to Hilo and is a solid addition, Baldwin said.
“A key for us offensively will be the line,” the coach said. “If we execute and control the line, we should be able to move the ball and score some points.”
Junior Jeffrey Kono (5-9, 160) will be a key player in Hilo’s passing attack.
“Jeffrey can stretch the field,” Baldwin said. “He’s got a lot of speed and can make plays once he catches the ball.”
If either Kelley or Atuekaho are behind center, the other one will play opposite Kono, giving the Vikings another potent receiver with play-making capabilities.
“With any one of those three at wide receiver, we have a lot of options and it’ll put more pressure on the defense,” Baldwin said.
Returning All-BIIF players John Funaki (6-0, 310, Sr.) and Jason Tara-Antone (6-0, 295, Sr.) anchor Hilo’s strong O-line. They will be helped by junior Chanson Tongpalan-Moke (6-0, 250), senior Moses Ahuna (5-11, 280) or senior Sawyer Salfen (5-8, 220).
“We think we’ve found the right mix and chemistry with our big boys on the line,” Baldwin said. “They should be really solid this season.”
Seniors Tanikeni “Isi” Holani (6-2, 275) and Salzman are among the league’s best on the D-line. They will be joined by seniors Mike Williams (5-9, 195) and Jimmy Rosas (5-10, 345) to harass opponents.
“We want them to control the gaps, and then pin their ears back and go after the quarterback,” Baldwin said.
All-BIIF performer Sione Holika (5-10, 195, Sr.) is a stud in the middle and will be joined by junior Ofa Fahiua (5-10, 195), senior Suwaiter Poch (6-0, 225) and Junior Makana Josue-Ma’a (6-0, 235), depending on the defensive package of the moment.
“We’re confident this year that we can switch defenses at any time,” Baldwin said.
The secondary will be led by senior Tyler Mahoe (5-8, 143) and junior Haili Mahoe (5-8, 170). Juniors Melvin Kikau (6-0, 155), Ku’ilua Mortensen (5-8, 197) and Faaaliga Fuiava (5-9, 200) also hope to contribute in the defensive backfield.
“We have a good competition going on with those guys, and they should be an important part of our defense,” Baldwin said.
Senior Rayce Takayesu (5-8, 125) will handle the majority of kicking duties — kickoffs, extra points and occasionally punting.
But Baldwin also said Tongpalan-Moke and Fuiava could punt, depending on the situation.
No. Pos. Name
11 QB Donavan Kelley
30 RB Malu Lapilio
62 LG John Funaki
52 T Chanson Tongpalan-Moke
61 C Sawyer Salfen
70 T Moses Ahuna
65 RG Jason Tara-Antone
81 WR Jeffrey Kona
2 WR Sione Atuekaho
4 WR Tristin Spikes
No. Pos. Name
47 DE Mike Williams
72 DT Tanikeni Holani
44 DT Jimmy Rosas
64 DE Jon Salzman
51 LB Sione Holika
34 LB Ofa Fahiua
50 LB Makana Josue-Ma’a
5 CB Tyler Mahoe
7 SS Haili Mahoe
31 FS Melvin Kikau
32 CB Ku’ilua Mortensen
87 K Rayce Takayesu
52 P Chanson Tongpalan-Moke
8/31 Hilo at Hawaii Prep, 2 p.m.
9/7 Keaau at Hilo, 7:30 p.m.
9/14 Honokaa at Hilo, 7:30 p.m.
9/20 Hilo at Kamehameha. 7:30 p.m.
9/28 Kealakehe at Hilo, 6:30 p.m.
10/4 Hilo at Konawaena, 7:30 p.m.
10/12 Hilo at Waiakea, 3:30 p.m.