Sunday | December 10, 2017
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HHSAA football championships: Hilo ready to get down to business

The Hilo Vikings touch down in Honolulu on Friday and plan to make a beeline for their first (and primary) destination.

It’s not their hotel, Waikiki or any other leisurely stop.

“Right to Aloha Stadium,” coach Kaeo Drummondo said.

And with that walk through, so the business trip begins.

No distractions.

In this case, the business of winning football championships is pleasurable enough in itself.

“We’ve made it this far, don’t let it slip away,” junior offensive lineman Tilini Livai said. “Aloha Stadium, TV, all that stuff. Just treat it as a business trip.”

Before they embark on their brave new world, the weather Thursday forced the Vikings inside, so they went old school, going through a light, padless practice at the school’s decades-old gym.

“We like to get back to our roots,” senior wide receiver Makana Kanehailua said in between running offensive sets.

BIIF champion Hilo (9-1) and ILH champ Damien (10-3) clash at 5 p.m. Saturday at Aloha Stadium, each searching for their first HHSAA Division I championship.

One of Drummondo’s primary focuses this week was to make practices as normal as possible.

So far, so good.

“We’re really relaxed, though we’re a bunch of teenagers, I guess the pressure will get to us later,” Kanehailua said.

“It’s hard to balance the business trip and your friends, but you know that history is on the line and you want to be the first team to make history.”

In 2014, his older brother, Micah, was a part of history at Kamehameha. Then a senior, Micah Kanehailua quarterbacked the Warriors to a victory against Nanakuli in the HHSAA Division II playoffs, which at the time marked the BIIF’s third win at states.

Makana Kanehailua remembers Hilo’s winless season in 2011, and he watched Kamehameha’s success from afar, but he never wavered on becoming a Viking.

“My parents are alumni,” he said. “I always wanted to play for Hilo High School.”

The payoff came Nov. 4 when the Vikings beat Maui 26-7 at Wong Stadium to become the first BIIF team to advance in the D-I tournament.

“We’ve been getting so much support from the community, it’s just awesome,” he said.

Iosaia’s resolve

Among the Hilo players counting their blessings is starting senior linebacker Iosaia Lavata’i.

Lavata’i missed four games last season with a labrum tear, and despite offseason surgery the injury forced him to put up with two reoccurring sounds: that of a popping shoulder and that of a nagging parent.

“Basically, if my arm is out and I’m trying to make a tackle but I’m reaching,” Lavata’i said, raising his right arm, “it literally will just pop.”

And pop and pop, then pop some more.

“It’s one of those things, “Oh, it popped again,”’ Lavata’i said. “I pop it back in and continue with practice or the game.

“It’s popped so many times I literally lost count.”

Lavata’i’s parents initially forbade him from playing contact sports, but Iosaia, who serves at a local church, ultimately was able to win that argument.

“Believing in God and having faith in him,” Lavata’i said. “Just trusting in him that he’ll make it happen.”

Lavata’i, who also overcame a torn ACL his freshman season, and quarterback Kaleo Apao were both members of the Panaewa Alii team that advanced to the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Florida in 2013.

On Saturday, Lavata’i will be playing in front of family coming from as far away as San Diego

The biggest lesson Lavata’i has learned along the way?

“Never quit, keep going,” he said. “Even if your parents are advising you to quit, don’t quit. Have that drive and keep going.”

Beef up front

It’s no secret that Hilo wants to get the ball to standout running back Kahale Huddleston, and it’s no secret that the Monarchs will be geared up to stop him.

That’s where Livai and his his offensive linemates – Kaeia Vera, Koa Kapahu, Lono Vincent and Loni Bloomfield – come into play.

“I would say we’re stronger than last year,” he said. “More physical, faster and better communication.”

The Vikings’ passing game has improved as the season has gone on, but the running game has been Hilo’s hallmark ever since the season-opening 62-35 victory against Iolani.

“We’ve really got to set the tone,” Livai said. “They say defense wins championships.

“We want to show that the offense can score.”

On film, Livai said the Monarchs’ defensive front seven isn’t overwhelming, but he noted that Damien likes to blitz early and often.

“Whatever they put in front of us, we’re going to be ready,” he said.


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