LAHAINA - When it comes to the Lahainaluna High School football program, things tend to remain the same.
The Lunas often line up a small roster - in both numbers and player size - many of their starters go both ways, their flex-bone offense features only a few different base plays that they run opponents crazy with, and their defense is always solid.
The West Maui boys always find ways to improve as the season progresses and they inevitably play their best football when it counts the most.
Kiko Kohler-Fonohema of Lahainaluna High School finished fifth on the Maui Interscholastic League’s passing list last season despite missing the last half of the season with a broken jaw. He was 22 for 49 passing for 297 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
GLEN PASCUAL photo
Last season, as injuries took a toll, the Lunas played three different quarterbacks and were outscored by a point collectively in their 5-3 Maui Interscholastic League slate.
Still, they won their fifth straight MIL Division II title, rolled by Konawaena in their state opener and nearly advanced to the state final before falling 19-14 in the semifinals to Waipahu, a school with more than 2,000 students, on the road.
This season appears no different. The Lunas were the only MIL team to win a non-league game last weekend, 35-14 at Keaau. Last season, they were also the only MIL team to win a non-league game.
Football preview: Lahainaluna
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 Maui High:
2011 record: 7-4 overall, 5-3 MIL (lost in Division II state semifinals)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense
DAY BY DAY
MIL Football Schedule
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.
"It was nice to see our kids go after an opponent finally," co-head coach Garret Tihada said.
The roster is small again.
"A whopping 37," Tihada said with a smile at practice Tuesday. "As long as we come out and play, it doesn't matter if we have 25 or 50. As long as you come out and play, you will be all right."
The MIL Division II football ranks have grown from two teams to three, with King Kekaulike moving down after its student population fell below 1,000 this year. Na Alii are the Lunas' first league opponent on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium - the Lunas won the last game the two teams played last season 14-13.
"I don't know if we are going to be ready, but we have no choice," Tihada said. "Either way, we have to step on that field."
Tihada watched King Kekaulike show flashes in a 39-13 loss to Kauai High on Saturday.
"After watching King K, the score did not indicate the type of game they played," Tihada said. "They are very explosive this last game and their defense is very, very physical. They had some tough breaks, but other than that, I was very impressed with them. They have athletes, they have a good offensive scheme, they have a good defensive scheme. They are going to cause some problems for people this year."
Junior quarterback Kiko Kohler-Fonohema finished fifth on the MIL passing list last season despite missing the last half of the season with a broken jaw. He was 22 for 49 passing for 297 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"He is 100 percent healthy," Tihada said.
Things always start in the trenches for the Lunas and Tihada has some concerns there.
"Again, we are young and inexperienced on the lines, but I was happy both offensively and defensively the way they came off the ball in the Keaau game," Tihada said.
As usual, the Lunas have a strong stable of running backs and slotbacks. Senior Semisi Filikitonga was fifth in the MIL last season with 290 yards rushing and a 5.2-yard per carry average. Sophomore Jared Rocha was sixth in rushing with 286 yards and a 6.2 average - his six rushing touchdowns were third in the league.
Tytus Lucas, Mark Alamon, John Lacuesta and Bronson Kaina are also back and should see significant carries as the Lunas often have eight to 10 players carry the ball in a single game.
Lucas and Alamon - two of 13 seniors on the roster - are the captains.
"We don't have that normal stable that we normally do, but I believe probably seven to eight kids carried the ball against Keaau," Tihada said. "Whoever's number is called, they step out. We don't really have a featured back. Because of our three-back set we need a lot of guys going in and out."
Rocha was a first-team MIL All-Star running back last season as a freshman and Lucas was a first-team All-Star as a defensive back.
Tihada said "six to seven guys" will play both ways, especially on the line. Even Kohler-Fonohema saw time on defense against Keaau.
Sophomore Conner Mowat and senior Joshua Coston are returning starters on both lines. Hercules Mataafa, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior, will also be key on both lines.
"You can see our guys are more confident this year after playing as youngsters last year," Tihada said. "The defense is a lot of the same guys, we just flip them over. The running backs become the linebackers, receivers become the defensive backs, and our offensive line becomes the defensive line."
Because of that, "conditioning is important and we have to be real conscious of getting fresh bodies constantly in. . . . That is not anything new."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org