To make a buck, Chris Midal teaches building construction at Pahoa High School.
Who better to lead the Daggers’ first foray into Big Island Interscholastic Federation football in more than a decade?
“We’re constructing here, too,” Midal said.
And from the ground up.
Midal said a handful of players competed in Pop Warner when they were younger, but there is precious little football experience on the 28-man roster.
Midal formerly coached Pop Warner, but he’s only seen one eight-man game on tape, so he’s not trying to recreate the wheel.
“A lot of teaching, starting with basics and tackling techniques,” he said. “We’re constantly reminding the boys to keep their heads up.
“Keep your head up and in the game. I’m so scared of concussions.”
To that end, he intends to keep his players fresh by limiting the amount that have to play both ways.
Midal doesn’t think speed is a team strength, and though the Daggers boast some size up front, they’ll spread the field out of the shotgun on offense and try to force other teams into mistakes and find seams. On defense, Pahoa may mimic the two-man technique up front that Ka’u used at times last season.
Like any other football team, the big guys are playing up front. But if the defense is ahead of the offense this season, there is probably a good reason.
“Most of the players are more excited about playing defense,” senior nose tackle Casen Arriola said. “They just want to hit.”
That’s great, Midal, pointed out, “but in order for us to score, we need them to block.”
Senior Luis Velez has experience on the gridiron, playing defensive end on a Puna Panthers Pop Warner team that finished third on the island two years ago.
Also one of Pahoa’s best runners in the open field, Velez impressed the coaching staff with his decision making in preseason camp.
“He has the smarts for the position and can throw the ball,” Midal said.
Velez also wrestles and plays baseball for the Daggers.
“In playing baseball, I found out I had an arm,” he said. “I think I’m pretty well-balanced, but I think I have a little more running in me than passing.”
Damien Mercado-Bartolome, a 5-foot-4 junior, joins Velez in the backfield, and the duo will form the Daggers’ primary running threats.
Midal said Mercado-Bartolome makes up for his lack of height by being aggressive, and he’ll be backed up by two other backs in an offense that will try to run a playbook featuring 20-30 plays.
“Damien will carry the load,” Midal said. “He’s a good listener.”
With speed and decent size at 5-10, Joaquin Ridgway has a chance to be one of Pahoa’s best play-makers.
“The most stamina of all my players,” Midal said.
Velez noted he also enjoys working with receivers Kody Lee and Kaipo Tapuolo, a pair of players who could see double-duty on defense this season.
“They’re running pretty tight routes,” Velez said.
Just like in 11-man football, Midal feels eight-man is won or lost in the trenches.
Unfortunately, none of the three players ticketed to start have football experience.
But they do have bulk, especially junior center Ibrahim Aguiar, who’s 5-7, 271 pounds and has been working dutifully to get the snapping portion of the game down.
“He’s just right for the position,” Midal said.
The guards will be Hyson Silva (253 pounds) and Luke Kuahiwinui-Lee (244).
From early indications, the unit is better suited for the pass game.
Midal was hopeful when he took the job that he’d have an edge rusher with size and speed, and he’s inherited just that in Ernest Stinett (6-0, 255), a senior who previously played with Panaewa Alii in Pop Warner.
Modal praises Stinett when he calls him a trouble-maker.
“I wouldn’t want to go up against him,” Midal said. “All the boys are scared of going up against him.
“Hopefully, he can just shut down his side of the field.”
Arriola (5-7, 266) will man nose tackle and it will be pivotal for him to eat up blocks to protect the linebackers.
The Daggers may move a linebacker up to the line as a hybrid depending on the offense’s formation.
If the Daggers stick to the two-man front, the challenge for this unit will be facing unblocked offensive linemen.
“We still expect them to stop the run and pass,” Midal said.
Former Puna Panther Justin Castro, a sophomore, is the captain of the defense at middle linebacker, while Lava Benn and Makalea Karren will play outside.
Benn is the biggest of the bunch at 5-11, 215.
“They call the plays and work together,” Arriola said.
The headliner here is Tapuolo, who won the job he set out to in the preseason camp: safety.
Midal said the last line of a defense is all the more important in eight-man because a slight breakdown can lead to a big play for the offense.
That’s why Midal is glad Tapuolo is a “ball-hawk.”
“He has speed and instincts to intercept the ball,” Midal said. “He’s one of our more aggressive players.”
Dyson Gacutan, a 5-3 junior, will play cornerback with Lee.
Pahoa will mix and match with zone and man-to-man principles, though Midal said press coverage would rarely be used.