WAILUKU - For the last seven years - and nine of the last 10 - the Maui Interscholastic League football crown has been nearly the sole possession of Baldwin High School. In 2012, the realistic question is: Can the Bears break an Oahu stronghold on the Division I state-championship game?
Six times the Bears have been to the state semifinals and six times they have been eliminated - last season's 35-0 loss to Punahou
made Baldwin's collective scoreboard 203-79. No team from outside Oahu has ever made a D-I state final.
Baldwin High School’s Keelan Ewaliko was the Maui Interscholastic League leader in rushing and passing last season.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER?photo
This season, with a huge game against Saint Louis looming Saturday at Aloha Stadium, Baldwin appears geared for a potential breakthrough. The Crusaders are ranked sixth in the state by scoringlive.com, while the Bears are 10th.
Baldwin, the the only MIL team not to play a game yet this season, has 64 players on its roster, 11 more than any other MIL team.
"It is going OK," Bears coach A.J. Roloos said Wednesday. "We have been practicing for the last month now and beating up on each other is not fun. The kids are progressing slowly. They are excited to play this weekend against Saint Louis, so that is huge for us. It is a good game for us to see where we are at."
The Maui News has looked at each of the Maui Interscholastic League's five football teams this week, heading into the start of regular-season play today. The final preview is of Baldwin:
2011 record: 9-2 overall, 8-0 MIL (lost in Division I state semifinals)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Defense: 4-4 base
DAY BY DAY
Maui High vs. Kamehameha Maui at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
St. Louis vs. Baldwin at Aloha Stadium (nonleague), 5 p.m.
Lahainaluna vs. King Kekaulike at War Memorial Stadium, 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 Bears return five starters on offense, and the list begins with third-year starting quarterback Keelan Ewaliko. The two-time Maui Interscholastic League Offensive Player of the Year, who has verbally committed to the University of Hawaii, was the first player to win the league's passing and rushing titles in a single season in 2011, and named to the All-State third team by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last year.
"We are super stoked, it is not very often you can play a team like Saint Louis in Aloha Stadium," said Ewaliko, who is 16-0 in MIL play as a starter, but 2-4 against nonleague foes. "For them to want to play us, it means a lot. Right now, we are looking pretty good."
Three of his starting receivers - Kyson-Lee Kaiama, Larry Gines and Ryan Garces - return, as does offensive line starter Alika Ezera.
The defense may be even more imposing. Senior lineman Miki Fangatua, a first-team MIL All-Star last season, already has a scholarship offer from Weber State, and junior linebacker Jordan Hoiem has four - from Hawaii, Nevada-Las Vegas, Utah and Utah State. Senior lineman Semisi Malafu, junior linebacker Teva Eldridge, and senior defensive backs Abraham Reinhardt and Brandon-Lee Delcastillo also return as starters for the defense.
Baldwin outscored eight MIL opponents 298-41 last season, had four shutouts and gave up more than one touchdown only once.
"We will find out Saturday night," the 6-foot-1, 248-pound Fangatua said of the Saint Louis game. "We can't wait to hit somebody else."
Lahainaluna won the MIL crown in 2004 and shared it with Baldwin in 2009, but last season the Bears beat the Lunas - a Division II state semifinalist - 40-0 and 41-0. Since the middle of the 2004 season, Baldwin is 58-2-1 in MIL play.
Roloos played a little coy when discussing Saint Louis, which lost its opener to second-ranked Farrington 39-33 last week. Baldwin beat Farrington in the state quarterfinals last season on a last-minute touchdown run by Ewaliko.
The Crusaders play Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, ranked 28th in the country and No. 1 in Nevada by maxpreps.com, next week.
"The kids are excited to play Saint Louis and, of course, Saint Louis is looking by us because they got Bishop Gorman next week," Roloos said. "We are just going to go out and do our thing and whatever happens, happens."
Four prominent Baldwin alumni are assistant coaches this season.
Jordan Helle is handling the quarterbacks. Kawika Kahui, a former standout at San Diego State who was a practice squad player for the San Diego Chargers, is in charge of defensive linemen. Cody Nakamura, who played at Weber State, is the wide receivers coach. The newest addition to the coaching staff is Kai Maiava, fresh off a standout career at UCLA and coaching the offensive line.
"I'm having a lot of fun, it feels good to get back out here and help out," Maiava said. "I am just trying to get them as ready as I can. Hopefully we will come out Saturday against Saint Louis and show them what we got. So far I am liking what I'm seeing, they give a lot of effort, they are tired but they are giving us all they got, so I can't complain."
With only Ezera as a returning starter, the learning curve is high for the offensive linemen.
"I am just trying to show them the techniques that got me to where I have gotten," Maiava said. "We are just taking baby steps really. You can't throw it all at them at once."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org