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BIIF football: Waveriders looking to reinvigorate ways of old

By J.R. DE GROOTE

West Hawaii Today

KAILUA-KONA — Kealakehe is looking at the past to hopefully bring about a brighter future.

The locker room halls at Waverider Stadium are decked out with pictures of former Kealakehe standouts — guys like Jesse Mahelona, James Kamoku, Psalm Wooching and Asotui Eli — all who went on to play football at the Division I level.

Kealakehe head coach Sam Kekuaokalani sees it as a way to not only reinvigorate some pride in the program that captured seven BIIF Division I titles between 2004-12, but also a way to show that with the right balance of academics and athletics, football can be a vehicle for a bright future.

“Especially for the younger kids, it’s important to see the players who came before them and what they did,” Kekuaokalani said. “We want it to be motivation.”

A jump-start is needed for Kealakehe, which was left out of the BIIF championship game last season for the first time since 2001 — before some of the younger Waveriders on the roster were even born.

Only adding to the pain, the program watched Waiakea lock-up the BIIF’s second berth to the HHSAA tournament — a rare commodity that hadn’t been available previously and no longer exists this year.

Hilo has taken over the D-I powerhouse role, having handily conquered what was once referred to as “Mount Kealakehe,” reeling off the last four consecutive D-I titles.

It’s now Kealakehe looking to do the climbing back to the top of the Big Island, but this edition of the Waveriders are optimistic things could be different this time around.

“We all remember what happened last season, but this feels like the year we break through,” multitalented senior Anthony “Head” Trevino said. “We have a strong senior class and there are a lot of guys who bring that never give up kind of attitude.”

The title drought, coupled with the motivation hung on the locker room walls have been helpful for the current crop of players, many whom have had relatives on past teams and are hungry for BIIF glory.

“Coming from a family where my brothers went here and helped set the standard, it’s important to me to play with that pride,” said senior linebacker Ismail Souza, who’s two brothers, Calub and Jacob, were both part of championship teams. “We want to be the team that brings the title back to this school.”

Kealakehe headed to the hills to find some serenity and team-bonding early this season, holding camp at Pohakuloa Training Area and tuning out any distractions. Along with some high-elevation training, it gave the team’s leaders a chance to shine.

“It helped us a lot with team bonding,” Souza said. “We definitely came away from that experience more together.”

Some friendly, day-to-day internal competition hasn’t hurt, either.

“I feel like on the practice field we have kept the intensity up,” said senior safety Bryton Lewi, a returning All-BIIF pick on defense. “We keep the competition going. It’s next man up and everyone has to work for their position.”

The core of the leadership will be wearing jersey Nos. 10-11-12 in Souza, Lewi and Trevino, all returning starters and experienced playmakers. Defensive tackle Hiram Anakalea and two-way threat Swope Conn (DL/RB) also will be senior Waveriders to watch.

With leaders at every level, there’s little doubt Kealakehe could have a championship-level defense. But that side of the ball hasn’t been a problem in recent years. It’s been a lot tougher for the Waveriders to get consistent performances out of its offense.

The catalyst for change will start on the line, which is junior-heavy this season and is anchored by multi-year starter, Kaua Awana.

“It starts there,” Kekuaokalani said. “We really put in work this offseason to get better on the offensive line and feel good about it.”

Kekoa Ilagan-LeBlanc transferred from Hawaii Prep to Kealakehe and has been receiving the majority of reps at quarterback. However, the position still seems like it will be a battle.

In the preseason, he has split time with Trevino, who will likely have the dirtiest jersey on the field most games.

Trevino has been a Swiss Army Knife-type player, lining up at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive end and linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior also fields kicks and is responsible for kicking and punting duties. In short, he rarely leaves the field.

Senior Travis Grace is among the Waveriders most experienced receivers, with Kalani Piltz, Ikaika Pali and Teyler Frazier also slated to see a chunk of the targets. When not at QB, both Trevino — who was an All-BIIF receiver as a sophomore — and Ilagan-LeBlanc moonlight as pass-catchers.

Conn is a bruising back in Kealakehe’s arsenal, but junior Raymond Skillern has carved out a nice role for himself in the preseason, garnering most of the carries and proving to be a reliable blocker and pass-catcher in the backfield.

Overall, the results have been mixed in two preseason losses. There has been some good, like the physical play of the Waveriders’ defense and a core group of playmakers on offense finding a few holes.

But there’s also been some bad, most notably the offense having inconsistent outings and struggling to sustain drives and the defense allowing too many explosive, game-changing plays to opposing offenses.

But the two preseason games were meant to be opportunities to work out the kinks. As Kekuaokalani points out, if the Waveriders earn their way back into the title game, the only result that matters is the last.

“We want to peak and accelerate our improvement at the right time. We have our goals set, and the boys know those goals,” Kekuaokalani said. “We have really focused on eliminating the distractions and striving to be better every day. Step-by-step, we all need to be going in the same direction at the right time.”

 

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