In as new a season as the Maui Interscholastic League has possibly ever seen, football action begins this weekend with three preseason games on the Valley Isle.
No team has undergone more change than Baldwin High School, MIL champion in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
The Bears open Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium against Saint Louis, No. 3 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's opening poll.
Baldwin High School’s Dusty Flores is the top returning rusher in the Maui Interscholastic League.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Maui High’s Soane Vaohea ranked fifth in the MIL in rushing in 2012.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"I think this year is going to be great," said Bears senior linebacker Teva Eldridge. "A lot of these guys are just coming out here and are real committed. Everybody is trying to work as a team and I think the unity is what's really helping us this year."
Tonight at 7 at War Memorial, Maui High will play St. Francis in the Oahu school's first-ever varsity football game. Kamehameha Maui will host Damien at Kanaiaupuni Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Bears said goodbye to three-time MIL Offensive Player of the Year Keelan Ewaliko, now wearing the green and white of the University of Hawaii. Baldwin coach A.J. Ro-loos resigned in July after six MIL titles in as many seasons and senior linebacker Jordan Hoiem announced last month he was done with football with five NCAA Division I scholarship offers on the table.
Maui High vs. St. Francis at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Baldwin vs. Saint Louis at War Memorial Stadium, 4:30 p.m.
Damien at Kamehameha Maui, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 17
King Kekaulike at Kamehameha Hawaii, 1 p.m.
Kapaa vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 4:30 p.m.
Maui High vs. Konawaena at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 23
Maui High vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 24
King Kekaulike at Kamehameha Maui, 7 p.m.
Lahainaluna vs. Mount Douglas (British Columbia) at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
The Crusaders dealt the Bears a 46-0 defeat last August at Aloha Stadium.
"We are going to be as ready as we can get for these guys," said Keneke Pacheco, a 13-year Baldwin assistant who is stepping in as head coach for the 2013 season. "They are going to come ready to play. It's our job to make sure we're ready to play."
The Bears have 62 players on their roster, including three quarterbacks vying to take over for Ewaliko. Saturday's starter will be sophomore Tage Foster-Akaka. Junior Josiah Tonu and senior Jeremiah Badillo could also see time against the Crusaders.
Running back Dusty Flores returns after ranking third in the MIL in rushing last season with 508 yards and seven touchdowns on 85 carries.
"Yes, it is a new feel," Pacheco said. "We have just got to keep working towards a new start for Baldwin football."
The Bears' only returning starters on defense are linebackers - Eldridge, Afoa Laga and Nohea Keahi.
"Of course we are going to miss (Hoiem), but we started adjusting to missing him over the summer," Pacheco said. "We were talking to him throughout spring ball, so we knew what was going on. We started making adjustments a long time ago. We have got capable players to take his place."
Pacheco is one of three new head coaches in the MIL, joining Cody Nakamura at Kamehameha Maui and Kyle Sanches at King Kekaulike.
"It's fresh, it's good to see some new faces out there," Maui High coach David Bui said. "It is going to be interesting to see what they put out, but we are really just focused on us."
Tyson Takabayashi and Justin Carvalho are battling for the Sabers' quarterback spot. Senior Justin McCrary is not out for football after finishing second behind Ewaliko on the league rushing chart last season, but sophomore Soane Vaohea is back - he gained 414 yards on 98 carries in 2012, fifth in the MIL.
"Soane is still young and he has a lot to learn, but we are looking for big things from him this year," Bui said.
The Sabers lost senior Tommy Fisher, who transferred to Kaiser, but added Onosai Emelio, a transfer from King Kekaulike who steps in for Fisher at middle linebacker.
Defensive end Moana Vainikolo is back, but his brother Leka Vainikolo suffered a knee injury in practice that may sideline him for the season, according to Bui.
"Moana should anchor the defense at defensive end and he will also be rotating in at fullback," Bui said.
Brysen Kokubun will start at inside linebacker and tight end.
Chase Newton will start at quarterback for Kamehameha after he stepped in midway through last season and finished fourth on the MIL passing list with 229 yards.
"It's time to strap up the pads and see what these kids can get done," Nakamura said. "Being a first-year head coach at a new school, we don't know much about our players until we put on the pads and watch the game film."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com
* This article includes a correction from the original published on Friday, August 9, 2013. Brysen Kokubun will start at inside linebacker and tight end for Maui High School this season. An incorrect first name was used in a story Friday on Page B3. The Maui News apologizes for the error.