Reggie Tolentino knows he has his work cut out for him.
He’s not just trying to adapt to eight-man football after a lifetime in the traditional, 11-man variety, he’s also trying to teach his Kohala Cowboys some of the most basic tenets of the game.
“Basically, we’re back to square one with some of these boys, teaching them how to get down into a three-point stance, how to get out of the three-point stance,” Tolentino said. “It’s like starting all over. Baby steps. Just trying to teach them.”
Not that he’s complaining. Tolentino is thrilled to have football back at Kohala High School after two seasons without it. It’s just that many of his players have never suited up for a game before, and part of each practice has been spent teaching the fundamentals and how to do the drills that reinforce those skills.
“Some of these boys, when they were growing up, there was one season where Pop Warner didn’t have football,” Tolentino said. “A whole bunch of these boys never did play at all. They came up here like, ‘What is football?’”
They’re learning quickly, and they’re quite enthusiastic about it, as evidenced by the pad-popping action at a recent practice.
The decision to play in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s eight-man division, along with Ka‘u and Pahoa, was an easy one for Tolentino and the school. Even with a 28-man roster and a smaller number of players on the practice field, a coach was sometimes required to fill in as the team tried to run plays. That’s because a number of the players had just come out for the team and weren’t yet ready to play in pads.
Add in the fact that Tolentino and his coaching staff of offensive coordinator Dom Accorda and defensive coordinator Chad Atkins are still learning the nuances of eight-man football and there will be plenty of challenges in the season ahead.
“It’s hard, but at the same time, it’s fun, too,” Tolentino said.
Senior Dalyn Kupukaa takes the offensive reins in a system which should feature some variety, with some flexbone-type motion and spread and pistol packages. A mobile quarterback who is still getting used to passing with shoulder pads, Kupukaa is concentrating on being a leader.
“Now I’ve got to focus on my vision and my players, letting them know that now that it’s eight-man, we have more room to play,” he said.
Seniors Peter Fong and Maui Nauka will back up Kupukaa.
Junior Moses Hooton should see plenty of carries out of the backfield.
“He’s only a junior and our strongest running back, our fullback,” Tolentino said.
Cayson Carlos-Ellazar, another junior, will play halfback.
Junior Isaiah Villacorte-Caravalho should be a top target in an offensive system that Tolentino expects to feature more passing than traditionally was part of Kohala’s 11-man offense.
“He’s quick. He’s got great hands,” Tolentino said of Villacorte-Caravalho, who also could play some running back.
Marc Francisco, a sophomore, is the other receiver and gives Kupukaa another good option.
“He’s got great hands, too,” Tolentino said.
Jericho Rodrigues-Berdon should anchor the three-man offensive line. The senior center is one of the few players on the roster with previous experience and, at 190 pounds, is one of the bigger starters.
Sophomores D.J. Gusman and Zane White should be at the guard positions, although Chase Kaluau and 280-pound senior Conor Richards also could see time on the line
“He’s a tough guy,” Tolentino said of Richards. “He’s a big boy and, for a big boy, he’s got great hands. We might use him as a secret weapon. We’re not too sure yet.”
Seniors Hana Caravalho and Rocky Carnate are Tolentino’s top options at the position. The 190-pound Caravalho has the size often associated with the position while the 128-pound Carnate has a slender build.
Still, the coach said there is plenty of opportunity for someone like Carnate on his team.
“In 11-man, you look for the biggest guy and that’s your football team,” Tolentino said. “But in the eight-man, we’re looking for the smallest guy. He’s the quickest one. Once you get on the outside, it’s done. Speed is everything is the eight-man, not so much the strength anymore.”
The two defensive ends in Kohala’s 2-3-2 scheme are mostly responsible for keeping outside containment. Nauka and White are projected to start at the ends.
If the defensive ends fail in eight-man football, it could lead to a quick touchdown.
“Everybody’s responsibility got real big,” Tolentino said.
This could be the strength of the Kohala defense, with Hooton in the middle and senior Erin Gonzales and junior Zerex Abellera on the outside.
“Our linebackers, they’re pretty quick and they played the position before,” Tolentino said. “They pretty much know how to read what’s going on.”
Sophomore James Apostadiro will see time at cornerback as will Villacorte-Caravalho. Senior Jonah Palacay, who could be one of the team leaders, should hold down the safety spot.