KAHULUI - There is a different air surrounding the Maui High School football team this season. It's that feeling of optimism that only success can bring.
The Sabers won both their preseason games, including a come-from-behind victory over Konawaena on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.
"It feels different because in the past we didn't win a lot of games," said junior right tackle Makamae Kealoha-Cantero. "Now we started off good."
Tyson Takabayashi (left) and Justin Cravalho helped Maui High School record victories in both of its nonleague games this season
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Onosai Emelio ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason, and had a scoring reception.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Added junior quarterback Tyson Takabayashi: "It feels really good being 2-0 and reading all the papers about how Maui High hasn't had a winning season for a while. Just being a part of this program feels good."
The Sabers are 11-54-1 in the Maui Interscholastic League since the beginning of the 2005 season, and their last winning campaign was in 2003. David Bui is in his third season as coach after consecutive 3-5 MIL finishes.
Maui High opened this season with a 51-0 victory over St. Francis on Aug. 10, then rallied for a 47-37 win over Konawaena after trailing by 17 points at halftime.
MAUI HIGH at a glance
Returning starters-1 offense, 4 defense
2012 record-3-5 MIL, 3-6 overall
Aug. 10-Maui High 51, St. Francis 0
Saturday-Maui High 47, Konawaena 37
Friday-vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31-at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14-at Kamehameha Maui, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20-vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28-vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11-vs. King Kekaulike at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19-vs. Kamehameha Maui at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26-vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
"At halftime our coaches were telling us 'Dig deep, it is time to dial in,' " said junior defensive end and running back Alexander Vaini-kolo. "We had to focus and coach Bui told us effort can't be coached."
The Sabers are off to their impressive start despite some injuries.
Leka Vainikolo, a junior lineman and brother of Alexander, is out for the season after tearing a knee ligament in the week leading up to the preseason opener. Mario Fernandez, a junior running back and defensive back, will miss two to four weeks with a sprained ankle. Senior linebacker and running back Brysen Kokubun will miss at least a month after dislocating his right elbow against Konawaena.
Bui said Justin Cravalho played well after Fernandez was injured, and Jay Ramos filled in nicely when Kokubun went down.
"We lost a couple of players to injury. It's tested our character early," Bui said. "We have a lot of guys going two ways and special teams, some guys barely even getting off the field. Yet I don't have anybody tapping their helmet asking to take them out, they need a blow. These guys battle and there is no quit. We like what we see in the character so far."
The injury to Leka Vainikolo was difficult for his brother.
"It got to me at one point, but I just had to get over that hump," Alexander Vainikolo said. "That first game (against St. Francis) was my first game without playing with my brother since my freshman year. I had to be mentally ready to play without him."
The Sabers, who run a wing-T offense, didn't throw a pass in their first game and attempted only five against the Wildcats.
Maui High does have senior receiver Jared Kapisi, who had a league-leading 17 catches last year.
"Our strength is the running game," Bui said. "We have more backs than receivers. Our line is a little small. That's kind of the plan."
On Saturday, Maui High rushed for five touchdowns, and Onosai Emelio, Cravalho, Fernandez and Alexander Vai-nikolo each gained at least 57 yards on the ground.
"We work on our passing a lot and we are working toward eventually being a passing team, but for now our running game is working and we feel comfortable with it so we're going to stick with that," Taka-bayashi said.
Bui likes the intangibles his 5-foot-6 quarterback brings.
"He's undersized, but the kid has a heart the size of a lion," Bui said. "He's smart, we really like his attitude, he's an asset to our offense."
* Kyle Sakamoto is at email@example.com