There were games over the past few years where the Honokaa Dragons concentrated almost exclusively on their ground attack and might not have completed a single pass.
Times they are a changing.
New coach Morgan Hanohano plans to implement more spread packages to take advantage of the depth he sees at wide receiver. He is undaunted by the fact that Honokaa went 0-9 last year and was outscored 305-21.
Hanohano plans to use more players this season thanks to an expanded roster, and he expects to take advantage of mismatches by using a variety of formations and players lining up at different positions throughout the game.
“We’re showing these kids a lot of different packages,” Hanohano said. “We are going out in a spread. We do have a nice passing game. We’ll go with power-I — pretty much teaching whatever look there is possible so that we can adjust to every defense every week when we scout.”
Junior Nainoa Falk returns after starting at quarterback last season.
“He knows his stuff and he’s got that arm,” Hanohano said. “He’s got that arm to get the ball to the receivers.”
Just like last year, Falk probably won’t play exclusively at quarterback. Hanohano is looking for ways to get him the ball in different positions, which means finding someone else to play quarterback.
“He’s actually an awesome receiver and awesome running back,” the coach said. “That’s really where I want to get him. We just need to get some reps with some different quarterbacks so we can get him in at receiver. If we do get him at receiver position, we’ll probably have Sione Epenesa or Isaiah Paiva back there at quarterback so they can get Nainoa the ball when he’s at the receiver position.”
Epenesa, a junior, returns to the backfield. He lost much of his season to a concussion last year, but he did run for 148 yards in the Dragons’ BIIF opener against Waiakea.
When Epenesa is at quarterback or needs a breather, Hanohano can turn to senior Kelsey Kaniho, who also will play some wide receiver.
“He’ll be a good skill, speed guy to be reckoned with,” Hanohano said.
When the Dragons want to use a bigger set they have a couple of options in 220-pound sophomore Keaka Swift and 240-pound Kamaehu Richards. Richards, who was named to the BIIF Division II first team as an offensive lineman last season, will play fullback and tight end while Swift can line up at fullback.
“They played line years prior,” Hanohano said. “They’ve got hands, they’ve got speed. They’ve really worked hard for it.”
This group has Hanohano excited about the prospects of a potent passing attack. Newcomer Chansten Igarashi can help stretch defenses — Hanohano said the junior ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He’ll join Kanen Ventura, Josh Perry and Paul Purdy in a group that could go four-wide. Add the possibility of Falk joining them and it’s easy to see why Hanohano plans to move away from the power attack that has defined Honokaa in recent years.
“We’re going to throw the ball around a lot,” he said. “We’re going to spread it out. … We’ve got a heavy passing game.”
Hanohano has the luxury of lining Richards and Swift up at skill positions because he already has plenty of size up front. Center Hans Sommerhoff, tackles Sese Manriquez, Mario Manriquez and guard Kalena Roldan average 260 pounds.
Sommerhoff, Sese Manriquez, and Roldan each have starting experience. So does Kaanoi Regidor, who is much smaller at 150 pounds, but Hanohano likes Regidor’s speed and ability to serve as a pulling guard.
“Without that O line, we would get nowhere,” Hanohano said. “I really want to give props to our O line. They work really hard at practice and they’ll be working really hard every game.”
Hanohano sees the defensive front seven as one of the strengths of his team, with Richards and Trueston Andrade at the defensive end spots and junior Riley Rechiro and sophomore Kale Pahio at defensive tackle.
There is experience on the line, which Hanohano expects to be much better this season.
“We have some guys that were young last year, but they were coached up last year as far as defensive line,” he said. “(With the) offseason training, they really got a lot stronger, faster and more agile.
Swift is the young man in the middle of Hanohano’s preferred 4-3 scheme with Purdy and Epenesa out the outside linebacker spots. They will be counted on heavily after Honokaa gave up at least 39 points in six of its eight on-field losses last season.
“They really know the game,” Hanohano said. “They can read this game really good, with their speed. And they love to hit. They love to hit.”
Falk and Kaniho will play the cornerback positions. Perry and Ventura are the safeties, and Hanohano expects them to force some turnovers.
“They’re ball hawks,” he said. “They’ll sit. They’ll be patient. They’ll keep their distance, not let anyone get over the top of them.”