PUKALANI - Clarence Rivers has literally seen it all when it comes to the King Kekaulike High School football team.
The interim head coach has been with the program since its incep-tion in 1995, serving as defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and just about every assistant position in between.
He has been on the staffs of four different head coaches, from Jerry Fornelia to Dennis Dias to P.K. Higa to J.W. Kenton to Higa again. He has seen Na Alii win the 2006 Division II state championship, and endured seasons like last year, when the team went 1-7 in the Maui Interscholastic League.
Clarence Rivers will coach King Kekaulike High School at the Division II level this year — Na Alii claimed the D-II state title in 2006
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
Now, he is stepping in for Higa, a good friend and King Kekaulike's interim athletic director.
"I have been a head coach in other places, but this is not really a goal," Rivers said. "Right now, I am really just filling in. There have been some really good coaches here and I will try to take something from each one of them."
Na Alii, with 38 players on the varsity roster, have shifted back to Division II play as the enrollment at the school has slid from a peak of more than 1,500 students to less than 1,000 this fall. Rivers is encouraged by the 50-player junior varsity roster.
The Maui News will preview each of the Maui Interscholastic League's five football teams this week, heading into the start of regular-season play on Friday. Today, a look at King Kekaulike:
2011 record: 1-7 MIL, 1-8 overall
Returning starters: 2 offense, 3 defense
Defense: 3-4, 4-3
Maui High vs. Kamehameha Maui at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Lahainaluna vs. King Kekaulike at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
St. Louis vs. Baldwin at Aloha Stadium (nonleague), 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 31
Lahainaluna vs. Kamehameha Maui at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 1
Baldwin vs. Maui High at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
The varsity has 16 seniors.
"We have guys who weren't starters, but they have played a lot in the last couple years," Rivers said.
Both the offense and defense showed early flashes in a 39-13 preseason loss to Kauai High on Saturday - sophomore quarterback Ryley Widell made a good read and better pass as he hit senior wide receiver Keegan Gregg for a 42-yard touchdown in the second quarter after Na Alii's defense had allowed the Red Raiders just one first down on their first three possessions.
Widell was 17-for-32 passing with the touchdown and two interceptions - both of those were in the second half, when he completed only two of 11 passes. Gregg finished with 10 receptions, all in the first two quarters.
"We are kind of upbeat and we still have high expectations for the kids," Rivers said, "There is no such things as a free lunch, they have got to work."
Gregg had 16 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown during the 2011 season.
Sophomore receiver Joshua Ogata, like Gregg a second-team All-Star a year ago, was one of seven King Kekaulike players to catch a pass on Saturday. A year ago, he had 21 catches - tied for second in the league - for 143 yards.
The running-back position could be by committee. Against Kauai, Seabury Hall transfer Jay Braun, Justen Romkee, Dowells, Aaron Alama, Gregg and Cabbat all had carries - but Widell had the most, with nine for 7 yards, with a couple of sacks added in.
On defense, linebacker Keallan Dowells and lineman Kenny Brittain will be key. Former running back Romeo Cabbat has stepped in to the safety spot vacated by Kepa Luat-Hueu, also once a former running back who has gone on to junior-college football in California. Masson Lacno will also have an important role.
"We're excited, the whole team is excited," Lacno said. "The team is really focused this year. We really feel like we are ready to go."
The team's roster is small, and so are the players, Only two are listed at 220 pounds or more, and the largest is 225-pound Phillip Malano.
Lineman Joshua Kahaikupuna is one of several players who will be in on offense and defense both ways. He is one of the largest players on the team at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds.
"It seems like we are a lot closer this year as one unit, we are all good friends, so that makes it a lot easier," Kahaikupuna said. "As long as we keep working well we can win state. we just have to work hard, stay together and keep our heads up."
Kahaikupuna said that determination can overcome the size of the roster and the players.
"It is real small numbers, but with the talent and how much effort we put into our work, we can do anything," Kahaikupuna said.
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com