By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Tanikeni “Isi” Holani and Tristin Spikes were dominant, outstanding and valuable in their own way for the Hilo High football team, which experienced its most successful season in a decade.
Despite facing constant double teams, Holani, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior lineman, was a defensive terror and piled up 40.5 tackles and 13.5 sacks. Better yet, he earned high praise from Hilo coach Dave Baldwin.
“He was one of the most dominant players in the history of Hilo High football,” Baldwin said. “He was a force to be reckoned with. He was double and triple teamed and still influenced the game. That allowed the other guys to have the seasons they had. It was the best front seven in the league this year.
“It doesn’t show on the stats when they had to double him, and somebody else made a play, despite getting cut or a high-low block on him. He still created havoc and had an impact. Those are the things that are immeasurable, beyond his stats.”
On the other side of the ball, Spikes, smaller as a 5-8, 175-pound junior running back, ran with an inspirational fire for 1,227 yards on 158 carries, and scored nine touchdowns often against a tackle box filled with defenders.
Holani and Spikes powered the Vikings (10-2) to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I championship, the school’s first since 2003, transforming a team that was winless with an 0-10 record in 2011.
Waiakea workhorse senior Devin Preston, one of only two returning starters, was productive as a running back, gaining 1,198 yards on 189 attempts while playing linebacker and safety on defense, and filling in on special teams, too.
Spikes and Preston were voted the BIIF Division I Co-Offensive Players of the Year, by the league’s coaches.
Holani was voted the BIIF Division I Defensive Player of the Year.
Preston and Holani are repeat first-team picks, as well as Hilo offensive linemen Jason Tara-Antone and John Funaki, wide receiver Donavan Kelley, defensive lineman Makana Josue-Maa, linebacker Sione Holika and Kealakehe offensive lineman Feke Sopoaga-Kioa.
Waverider senior defensive lineman Travis Lualemaga is a three-time All-BIIF first-team selection.
Other Hilo first-team picks were O-lineman Jamerson Keakualua-Tuiaana, wide receiver and punter Aven Kualii, cornerbacks Tyler Mahoe and Ku‘ilua Mortensen, and linebacker Ofa Fahiua.
Front seven star
Hilo’s defensive front seven was led by Holani, Josue-Maa, Jon Salzman and Michael Williams on the line, and Holika, Fahiua and Suiwaiter Poch at linebacker — all part of a veteran group.
Besides Holani, the other senior defensive starters were Josue-Maa, Salzman, Williams, Holika, Poch, Mahoe and corner Faa Fuiava. That’s eight of 11 Vikings who end their BIIF careers as champions.
That’s why Holani’s lasting memory in his final game as a Viking is the 21-10 win over Kealakehe for the BIIF championship on Nov. 3 at Wong Stadium.
“My favorite memory was just the feeling after we beat Kealakehe, how it felt that we finally won the BIIF title after 10 years,” he said. “Being part of that front seven is something I’ll always remember, how we played together as brothers, how it all went down. I don’t know if it’s one of the best, but it was the best to play with them.
“All the hard work paid off. It feels good. I was surprised to see I got the honor. I felt like coach Baldwin, the team and the other coaches really made it a successful season. With all the support from them and the school, we really came through. We put in a lot of work and had a lot of success this season.”
Holani also noticed a chance in Spikes, whose grandfather George Kela passed away on July 29. He was 66 and a standout Hilo High running back in his time.
“He brought a lot to the table this past season,” Holani said. “He was really good for the team because of his grandpa. That really changed him. He ran like a man and played with a lot of heart, even in practice, living every football day like it’s his last.
“It’s a big deal for him to get co-player of the year and for all of us. I’m really proud of him.”
Back in the day, Hilo was deemed too dominant for the rural BIIF schools, and played in the Maui Interscholastic League from 1962 to ’66.
Kela led the league in rushing with 704 yards on 122 attempts in nine games in 1963, when he was named to the MIL all-star team. The Vikings posted an 8-0 record and pocketed the MIL championship.
“Losing my grandpa made me push harder in school and on the field,” Spikes said. “I wanted him to be proud of me.
“I told everyone that this would be the year. And it was. This year we took BIIFs. I just really wanted to win the BIIF championship game, show people that we could do it.”
Spikes equaled and exceeded his grandpa with his ball-carrying prowess. Both landed on their league’s all-star first team. Spikes had a 7.76 yard-per-carry average over 12 games while Grandpa George had a 5.77 average over eight games.
“He was the best player on the team that won BIIF title with the best record,” said Baldwin, who could be describing both Spikes and Holani. “He drew all kinds of focus with guys loading the box. But he’d get his yard-per-carry average, which is one of the highest in the league.
“From his sophomore to junior year, he’s really grown by leaps and bounds. He went from puppy status to becoming a big dog. He’s strong, fast and has got a good amount of shake-and-bake, like his grandpa George Kela.”
It was the final season together at Waiakea for coach Moku Rita and his ironman son Devin Preston, who has a scholarship offer on the table from Division I-A Eastern Washington, which spotted video from Thane Milhoan’s website sportzviz.com.
“He was very valuable. He played pretty much every down. He’ll be missed next year,” Rita said. “I’ve coached him since Pop Warner, little kid time to all the way up. He gave us leadership in school, off the field, on the field. The guys on the team listened to him. He’s a good leader and I’m going to miss that. I’m actually going to miss his hard-hitting, too.”
Preston also has chance to impress more college coaches at the Samoa Bowl on Dec. 29. He leaves with his dad on Saturday for three days of practice with the Hawaii team on Oahu. Then it’s off to Samoa for a seven-day trip.
“It’s a special honor to get co-offensive player of the year,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing. My dad pushed me hard. I took what he gave me to push to the next level. He taught me how to be a leader and gave me the utmost support.
“My favorite memory was just spending time with my team, especially the seniors and all the time we had together.”