Talk to the coaches and players at Kohala High School and there’s a word that surfaces in almost every conversation: hungry.
After having their past two seasons canceled because of low numbers, the Cowboys have a chance to feast on other Big Island Interscholastic Federation football teams for the first time in three years.
“I’m hungry,” senior quarterback Dalyn Kupukaa said after a recent practice. “My sophomore year was my first year of football. When we lost it, I cried. That’s my sport right there. That’s my blood line.”
Senior safety Jonah Palacay is in a similar situation. He didn’t play his freshman year, so he’s looking to make up for lost time.
“It feels good,” Palacay said. “I feel hungry already. Three years we haven’t had one. It’s sad.”
With the BIIF’s newly created eight-man division, it might not be the full-size portion Big Island residents are used to, but it should be more than enough to satiate the Cowboys.
For Palacay, it gives him an outlet he couldn’t find elsewhere.
“We don’t have that physicality of what we do in school,” he said. “We have all that stress from homework, teachers, other people out there. This is a good thing to take out stress. It’s also a good thing to come together as a brotherhood. We look at it as another family.”
Kohala has a reputation for being one of the tightest-knit communities on the island, and Palacay expects football’s return to bring residents and the school even closer together.
“We’re real small,” he said. “That’s why we’re so tight with each other. The aloha is really there. That’s what Kohala is all about.”
Coach Reggie Tolentino said the closeness of the community has made his job easier.
“It helps out a lot,” he said. “The community’s real tight. So, the boys’ parents and everybody were pushing for this eight-man league and trying to get football back into Kohala High School, which is real good. Two seasons we went without a team, we didn’t play. With the community being that tight, it’s a big help, a real big help.”
That’s not to say there weren’t any naysayers.
“Some guys (say), ‘What is eight-man?’” Tolentino said. “Everybody is thinking it’s flag football, but it’s not. We’ve got pads; we’re hitting. Some of the guys, it was hard to adjust. It was like, no they don’t want to come out.”
But that was the minority opinion, Tolentino said.
“The majority of the community, the main thing is we brought football back to the high school,” he said. “That’s what everybody wants. It doesn’t matter if it’s eight-man or 11-man. The main thing is we got football back. Two seasons is too much. We didn’t have any team. The boys didn’t get to play. It was hard. It was hard.”