Every single day, there was always an eagle soaring above Pono Davis, who knows it isn’t easy to match the high achievements of his brother Paka Davis.
Paka is a 2014 Kamehameha graduate, and built a reputation as a tireless hard worker on the football field and, more importantly, in the classroom.
He didn’t have innate ability as a baseball player, but Paka worked his tail off to earn a starting spot on the Warriors, the three-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II champion.
Even better, Paka worked hard to get a scholarship to TCU – not a football ride, but an academic one. He graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average, and walked on to the Horned Frogs.
For comparison’s sake, Pono has a 2.8 GPA, and it bugs him to no end that he didn’t listen to his brother/best friend/role model, and study harder much earlier.
As far as football recognition, Paka pulled a rare double-double last year when he was on the All-BIIF Division II first team at offensive and defense line; Pono made the first team at D-line.
Paka was one of 20 seniors lost to graduation, and the Warriors lost not only depth and experience, but a lot of size as well. It’s the smallest roster, in terms of height and weight, since Kamehameha joined the league in 2004.
“We’re not the biggest in the state or this island, but we’ve got a lot of heart, and we’re smart about our plays,” said Pono, who’ll be a two-way starter.
If he or the undersized Warriors should struggle, Pono is one cellphone call away from an inspirational jolt.
“My brother motivates me,” he said. “He’s always trying to teach me. He’s the best brother you could have. He’s always been there for me.”
The Warriors run the spread, but it’s not the run-based BIIF version, where passing is secondary or sometimes an afterthought.
Their scheme is like those you see the Oahu teams running on OC16 – hurry-up, fast-paced and super fun to watch if the aerial attack is clicking.
There’s something different about three-year starter Micah Kanehailua. He’s grown an inch and added 10 pounds, and is now 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds.
Size is not it. It’s not like he has a brighter smile. There’s something else.
He just looks so much smoother, from his setup to his weight transfer and delivery to his finish. Kanehailua’s footwork is cleaner, and his throwing mechanics – always pretty good – are distinctly better.
Maybe going to Peyton Manning’s passing camp over the summer helped a little, huh?
“I learned a tremendous amount about footwork and breaking down coverages,” said Kanehailua, who has several Division II and III offers, including one from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore.
That’s where 2012 Kamehameha graduate Warner Shaw is the starting quarterback, and 2014 Konawaena grad Brandon Howes is the backup. Howes also played for the Warriors, and was the backup to both.
Kanehailua joked that he has no interest in joining the Kamehameha QB Club at Pacific, patiently waiting behind Shaw and trying to beat out Howes again.
He’s more interested in adding a BIIF championship to the school’s pretty trophy case at Koaia Gym. Kanehailua carries a 3.6 GPA, so he can sense a tough challenge a mile away.
“Because we don’t have size or strength, we have to be quicker and smarter and faster than other teams,” he said. “We need quick-hitting plays. We want to put our four best wide receivers against the other team’s four best defensive backs, and we think our four can beat their four.”
Alapaki Iaea, James Sloan, Bayley Manliguis and Grant Shiroma will be the pass catchers.
Chase Peneku, who got a lot of time running the ball last year, gets the full-time job as the single back.
“We’ve got a fun offense. In our system, everybody gets the ball,” said coach Dan Lyons, who’s also the offensive coordinator. “We’ve got good senior leadership. It’s a very together group. We started a lot of young guys last year. Our strength is our togetherness, and understanding what we’re trying to do.”
The Warriors have produced several offensive lineman who landed college scholarships, including Kelii Kekuewa (2010 graduate), CJ Hoohuli (2011), Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy (2012) and Kennon Quiocho (2013).
Lyons believes Kelii Montibon is next in line with similar potential. Montibon made it to the All-BIIF first team at O-line last year as a sophomore.
“He’s one of the best athletes on the team,” Lyons said. “I think he has the potential to be a Division I football player.”
Davis and Joyden Madriaga are also returning starters. Kanaiela DeCoito, Grant Galimba and Icher Puleannes will rotate in the other two spots.
In the BIIF, if you can’t play run defense then you’re in big-time trouble. That was Kamehameha’s weakness last season, a reason Hawaii Prep’s Bobby Lum (now at Southern Oregon) would grin and rack up 200 yards every game.
“We want to be aggressive, and stop the run first and free up our skill guys (linebackers and safeties) to make plays,” Lyons said.
Derek Kalai is the new defensive coordinator, tasked with game-planning alignment and assignment – two of Cal Lee’s guiding principles.
Lee is fond of saying that playing defense is “all about putting the guys in the right place, and when the ball comes your way you make a play.”
The Saint Louis coach is also a pretty good teacher when it comes to proper tackling technique, and not letting ball-carriers bust through one-arm tackle attempts – something of a wart for the Warriors last season.
Davis, Nainoa Rosehill, Ryan Sanborn, Isaiah Paulo and Makani Pau will see time in the trenches.
Lyons likes the potential of Pau and Rosehill.
“Pau is undersized but he’s tough,” Lyons said. “Nainoa’s a sophomore, but he’s big and strong, and he’s still learning. He’s got great genes. His dad, Olen Rosehill, played at UH and Waiakea.”
Shiroma, Sean Miday, Kela Chin and Kua Manuia are all candidates to start or get major playing time, providing an area of depth.
Miday has the biggest role because he’ll be the middle linebacker, replacing Timmy Burke (now at Menlo College), who was a defensive field general.
“Miday understands what we want the middle linebacker to do,” Lyons said. “Timmy was the leader of that group. What we want is gap control, to stop the run downhill, and fill in gaps.”
Caleb Baptiste will anchor the back and his partners are Preston Kalai, Kamakana Pagan and Trey Galigo.
Baptiste wasn’t recognized on the All-BIIF team last year, but he’ll get a chance to be a play-maker this season at safety.
“I’ll be more of a run stopper than just sitting back,” he said. “Our philosophy is we want to stop the run and from there defend the pass. We’ve got some of the top DBs in the BIIF. We’re looking really strong, even our D-line is pretty good. We’re going to be good at stopping the run.”
Well, if the young and hungry Warriors can turn a weakness into a strength then anything is possible.
If Baptiste and his crew learned anything from last season it’s that defense, especially stopping the run, wins championships. Failure to do that gets you third place.
“I think we have an amazing chance for BIIFs this year. The key is playing together, and working more on gang tackling and swarming to the ball,” said Baptiste, spelling out the best way to stop the run.
Editor’s note: This is the third of an 11-part BIIF football preview series by the Tribune-Herald.
Keaau will be featured in Tuesday’s football preview and it’s Pahoa on Wednesday.