Na Alii eager to improve

PUKALANI – If Saturday night is any indication, things are on the upswing for the King Kekaulike High School football team’s offense.

In their first game, Na Alii rolled up 330 yards, 19 first downs and five touchdowns in a 54-37 loss loss to Pac-5. King Kekaulike was last in the Maui Interscholastic League offensively in 2013, averaging 133.1 yards per game.

Even the King Kekaulike defense that surrendered 515 passing yards controlled the line of scrimmage well enough Saturday to throttle the Pac-5 running game to the tune of minus-34 yards. Linebacker Drevyn Tavares had three sacks, and the defense also scored a safety.

“Oh, we absolutely hope so,” coach Kyle Sanches said when asked last week at practice if things are headed in the right direction. “We have some returning coaches, guys who have been here that are buying into the system, they have been working hard. For us it is about taking the next step, it’s the progression of things.”

Sanches became Na Alii’s third head coach in three seasons when he took the helm last year.

Former Baldwin three-sport standout Jason Lopez has joined the staff, which also includes veterans Joe Nekaifes, Sean Higuchi, Ed Gregg, Eddie Alamillo and Nathan Bird.

“Anytime you have got consistency and (the players) see that you are here for the long haul – I have no intention of leaving the program any time soon – it’s good,” Sanches said. “This year the buy-in from the offseason, throughout spring ball and thus far this fall is a lot better than it was last season.”

Kawika Homalon steps in at quarterback for Na Alii after two-year starter Ryley Widell decided to concentrate on baseball. Against Pac-5, Ho-malon ran for 20 times for 129 yards and three touchdowns, and was 4-for-13 passing for 98 yards, with two scores and no interceptions.

Homalon was the team’s leading rusher last year, with 201 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s been excellent,” San-ches said of Homalon. “He was in the running for the (quarterback) job last year and he did an excellent job for us at the running back position.”

Homalon said he is ready for the new challenge.

“Really excited,” he said. “I just thank God for the opportunity to serve as quarterback for our team and to take all the responsibility and lead the team to victory.”

Na Alii were 1-8 last year, a second straight one-win season.

“We can be very good,” Ho-malon said. “We just have to be as one and just play hard.”

Corry Brown caught a 42-yard scoring pass from Homalon, returned four kicks for 100 yards and booted a 40-yard field goal on Saturday. Joshua Ogata had two receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Ogata, a second-team MIL All-Star as a freshman, is healthy for the first time in three seasons – he underwent surgery on his right shoulder at the end of his sophomore year.

“Now, I’m very confident with it, it is stronger than before,” Ogata said.

Ogata is in his fourth season with the varsity program.

“I believe in our system and our line and our coaches,” he said. “I think Kawika can get the ball to other people and I think we will have a good year.”

Ogata will also play safety, and is one of several members of the 40-player roster who will line up on offense and defense.

“States, I want to win,” he said of this year’s goal. “The outlook is good, we all want to win. I believe in our coaching staff 110 percent. If they tell me to jump, I will jump for them, man.”

* Robert Collias is at