A year ago, against the state’s best of the best competition, Alapaki Iaea was soaking up the big-game atmosphere he enjoys so much.
Kamehameha lost a heart-breaker in the championship at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament on Oahu.
Still, there was Iaea running around, smiling and having the time of his life – with absolutely no regrets because he and his fellow Warriors played their hearts out.
Well, maybe there was one regret or disappointment: the sport was volleyball, not football, his true love. (Punahou beat Kamehameha for the state title, the second time in three years.)
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound wide receiver hasn’t experienced anything similar for football. In fact, Kamehameha last won a Big Island Interscholastic Federation title in 2010 when Iaea was in eighth grade.
That year’s team was loaded with talent. From the All-BIIF Division II team, six Warriors received recognition and played college ball, including, perhaps, the best kicker in league history in DJ Grant-Johnson, who signed with Navy.
The gridiron Warriors play on the Division II level, so it can’t really be described as best of the best if they reach states. That doesn’t dull the quest to bring home another BIIF crown, something that resides in the back of Iaea’s mind.
“We’ve been together and bonding as brothers for a while,” said Iaea, of the 14 returning seniors. “Through middle school we’ve been playing together. Finally, we’re in our last year. We’ve been working a long time for this. It’s our last run for a championship.”
Life and a chase for a league title won’t be a bed of roses for the Warriors, who graduated 20 seniors, including a vital eight who received All-BIIF recognition.
The biggest loss figures to be linebacker and inspirational leader Timmy Burke, who is at Menlo College, an NAIA school in Atherton, Calif. Burke was a three-time All-BIIF selection, and a significant force as a run stopper and pass rusher.
Iaea, who doubles as a high-jumping middle blocker for volleyball, got honorable mention last season for football. His lanky frame and speed will also be useful assets in the secondary.
“I want to bring leadership and energy, and lead the team in the right direction, stay consistent and positive,” Iaea said. “I love big games and the atmosphere. I get pumped up with big crowds, playing in front of our fans and having that bond with my brothers.”
Konawaena has been the team to beat the last three seasons. The Wildcats defeated HPA for the BIIF crown last season, and the Warriors the previous two years.
Well, time to switch subjects.
What’s the most fun way to score on someone? Throw a deep-ball touchdown for six points and deflate a defense. Iaea and quarterback Micah Kanehailua, who also got honorable mention, are three-year starters and a deadly combination.
“Paki is tall, strong and has a good connection with Micah,” coach Dan Lyons said. “He’s worked hard and inspired to be a good leader for that receiving group.”
Iaea’s mom is Shirley Dorcer and his stepdad Justin Dorcer owns Justice Fumigation. Iaea was raised with the typical life lessons: hard work and respect.
Even better for him, everything was reinforced on the football field.
“From football, I’ve learned so much about life,” he said. “How to be humble and disciplined. That helps me work hard. In football, you have to respect the other players, coaches, game and the teammates you play with.”
Without a doubt, the Warriors have their smallest team, in terms of height and weight, in the program’s history, since they joined the league in 2004.
Again, the lesson of football is everything is hard-earned. Want a first down on third-and-1? Then run through the teeth of a defense.
For Iaea, maybe there’s something far more enjoyable than a big-game atmosphere, like bringing out the best in his teammates – another football life lesson.
“We conditioned and lifted weights during the summer, and worked on our team speed. I liked that,” Iaea said. “We’re smaller and a scrappy team, but we just have to give our all on every play.”