Entering his second year as an eight-man football coach, DuWayne Ke still considers himself learning on the job.
In fact, he laughs at the suggestion the Trojans might have an advantage against Kohala and Pahoa, a pair of eight-man start-ups in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
“No way are we ahead of the learning curve,” he said. “One year under my belt, but one year don’t mean nothing.”
He did, however, come away with two key takeaways from last season, which is why Ke is stressing the importance of conditioning and versatility more than ever this year.
He noticed last year that if the Trojans fell behind, they simply were too fatigued to come back in the fast-paced and frenzied eight-man format.
“After the first quarter, everybody gets nuts with each other,” he said. “You can lose the game within the first two quarters, and you can tell how the game is going to go by halftime.
“The second half, the strongest survive, but it’s not about size, it’s conditioning.”
So the Trojans run their share of wind sprints, and Ke not only demands they practice hard all the time, but he wants them to practice at all positions.
That includes line drills, where everybody rotates in and takes a rep, no matter their size.
Ke’s goal is to have all 31 of his players, especially the 13 seniors, prepared to play at four different spots.
“They’re tripping,” he said. “I tell them that’s eight-man football.”
Senior Kupono Palakiko-Leffew watched last year as the speed of the game took a toll on players.
“Just in case someone gets injured or tired out, we can swap them right out,” he said.
The versatility extends to the playbook. Ka’u operated out of the spread with double slots last season, but it could feature more of a powerhouse look with two running backs this time around.
In all, Ke is comfortable in running up to six different types of offenses.
“We’ll have some surprises,” he said. “I’m game with anything.”
Ke said he could pull numbers out of a hat to determine the offense, and then hand the reins over to junior Jordan DeRamos to run it efficiently.
DeRamos is a dual-threat quarterback who doubles as team motivator.
“He trains hard,” Ke said. “He brings his teammates up. Don’t have to train him that hard because he trains himself.”
Palakiko-Leffew, a 5-foot-8, 187-pounder, was the Trojans’ big-play threat last season, twice reaching the end zone on plays that covered more than 60-plus yards.
The explosive nature of eight-man played right into his skill-set.
“When I go out there and run it’s an indescribable feeling,” he said. “When I’m running down the field past the safety, everything else blocks out and all I can see is touchdown.”
Cy Tamura is another good option, but Ke would like the senior to develop more consistency.
There is plenty of competition for playing time with seniors Rigan Kaapana, Makana Gravela, Anthony Emmsley-AhYe, and Kaimanu Medeiros-Dancel and sophomore Kaliikupapalani Apia-Dolan all in the fold.
Medeiros-Dancel and Apia-Dolan are the tallest options at 5-10.
Last season, Ka’u often used four wideouts, with two in the slot, but only one or two are needed when the Trojans feature a powerhouse backfield.
Senior Kainalu Ke, 6-0, 268, is a surefire bet to return to anchor the line, but the rest of the spots up front are up for grabs.
Trieson Pascubillo, Jamal Buyuan and Rodney Kuahiwinui are in the mix for the other two spots, but Ke was still waiting for them to prove themselves.
“They still have to show me,” he said. “I’m really strict, and they haven’t shown me enough yet.”
Ka’u played a two-man front last season, but they’ll go with three and sometimes four this year.
Kainalu Ke is a mainstay here as well, with Evan Manoha locking down one of the spots at end.
James Kuahiwinui and Isaiah Naboa have a chance to get playing time as freshman, while Gia Padilla, who played junior varsity as a freshman at Hilo High two years ago, could make an impact at end.
Ke was a former nose tackle during his 11-man days in high school, and he says keeping containment is even more important in this format.
“If you lose contain, it’s trouble right off the bat,” he said.
There are three seniors if not some uncertainty at the spot.
Palakiko-Leffew figures to start at linebacker, unless he moves up to help bolster the line, while Tamura could play here or move back to safety.
When those two are playing elsewhere, Kaweni Ibarra will help fill in the blanks,
If Ka’u is as versatile as Ke hopes it can be, then the options at cornerback will be plentiful.
Kaapana and Apia-Dolan are two of the best on the team at staying with their man in coverage.
One of Ke’s favorite parts of preseason camp was watching sophomore safety Kainalu Medeiros-Dancel mature.
“He got that position because he worked really hard,” Ke said. “He really turned it around the past three weeks.
“The parent told me whatever we’re doing is working.”
Editor’s note: This is the sixth of an 11-part BIIF football preview series by the Tribune-Herald.
Honokaa will be featured in Friday’s football preview and it’s Hawaii Prep on Saturday.