Honokaa High School has a different look this season to go along with a new coach and renewed hope.
Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Dragons, who suffered their first winless season in 57 years of Big Island Interscholastic Federation football. The team went 0-9 and forfeited its scheduled playoff game with Konawaena High School after struggling with injuries and low numbers all season.
Morgan Hanohano, an assistant coach last year under Bobby Embernate, takes over as head coach this season. Hanohano has emphasized the positives, of which he sees many, to his players. He has stressed teamwork, with team sleepovers designed to build chemistry and offseason workouts the coach says have resulted in a faster, stronger and more agile group of Dragons.
The work hasn’t been limited to athletic activities. Hanohano said the team has struggled with academic issues in the past, but a number of players have committed themselves to summer school and getting better grades.
Hans Sommerhoff, a senior who returns for his second season as starting center, expects much better things this season.
“I think it would be hard to do as bad as we did last year,” he said. “I’m really liking the new coaching staff. I definitely think we’re going to have a much better year.”
Kamaehu Richards, who shifts to tight end this season after being named to the BIIF Division II first team as an offensive lineman last season, is taking a philosophical approach to this season.
“From failure can come accomplishment,” he said. “We take that as a push for us to do good this year.”
A returning starter in the defensive backfield, Kelsey Kaniho said that the optimism surrounding the program starts at the top.
“This year we have more positive vibes on the field with our new head coach,” Kaniho said. “And the younger guys are stepping it up and aren’t as shy now. They understand what football is about now.”
In addition to the 30-man varsity roster, Hanohano said another 30 are on the junior varsity team. That’s a far cry from last season, when there was no JV team and the Dragons struggled to have more than 22 healthy, eligible players by the end of the season.
Sione Epenesa, a senior running back and linebacker, said Honokaa has all the elements for a successful season.
“We have all the talent that’s needed, all the positions and all the skills,” he said.
And, the Dragons should look good doing it.
Hanohano proudly showed off the team’s new uniforms, which feature gold jerseys, green pants and a green helmet with a gold “H” on each side, gold stripes and even flecks of gold paint.
“Give a little of that throwback, give them something to look forward to — a little styling,” he said. “These boys, every time they come into the locker room, they’re fully dressed to impress. They’re stoked to have all these new uniforms and helmets, ready to style and impress everyone.”