Future appears bright for Na Alii
Participation, grades are up as King Kekaulike looks to end nearly three-year winless streak
PUKALANI — The numbers reflecting the recent past are not pretty, but the future appears brighter for the King Kekaulike High School football team.
Na Alii enter the season riding a 23-game losing streak dating back to a 23-13 win over Kamehameha Maui on Sept. 5, 2014 — they were outscored 350-12 last season in the first year of the co-coaching regime of Tyson Valle and Dennis Dias.
After no junior varsity team last season, there is one this year. There will be no home games this season as the installation of the school’s first artificial turf field is due to be completed in April.
“For us, we’re very excited,” Valle said Tuesday in his office underneath the King Kekaulike Stadium grandstands. “We definitely had an investment year last year, putting in the foundation, setting these kids up so they can be successful this year.
“I think with the guys that we’ve got, they trained hard, they’re a lot bigger, they’re faster, they’re stronger for sure, so I’m excited to see what these guys can do.”
Trey Hunter emerged as the team leader last season at quarterback as a freshman — he finished 11th on the Maui Interscholastic League rushing list and sixth in passing.
“Yes,” Hunter said when asked if he sees wins for Na Alii this season. “My line, my offense, I really have that faith in them. I really believe in them.”
Na Alii walk by their field under construction every day before and after practice on the school’s baseball field.
“I saw the field as it was being developed as an alumni of the school, playing on the field, and seeing this stadium be built,” said Valle, who graduated from King Kekaulike in 2001, its third full class through the doors. “Now we’re at a stage where we’re putting in turf — it’s just another groundbreaking thing to see again. I saw the ground break and I’m seeing it again with the turf and it’s just amazing.
“Things to see and the changes and the things these kids have to look forward to, I think we’re doing right to the kids and the community.”
Said Hunter: “It means a lot. I really hope that our players take advantage of this new field because it really means a lot to everyone.”
Senior Nichlous Wenger, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive lineman, is the defensive captain after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
“There’s a big difference, a major difference,” Wenger said. “Guys are here, have been here since the beginning of January working out and putting in all the time and effort to get stronger and better. … More than anything, we’re here as a team. We work together and have good team bonding.”
Wenger will not be around to play on the new surface, but he knows what it means.
“More than anything I hope it brings in more people to play for the later generations and just for us to get better and better,” he said. “And be able to win.”
Valle smiled when asked about the future. He has no doubt a win is right around the corner.
“The future is very bright,” he said. “It’s going to be huge. It’s definitely going to be the momentum builder. We’re looking at that victory, we’re hungry. We want it, our kids want it. I think that’s the momentum that we need. We’re just hungry for that victory.”
Hunter, who has grown to 6-0, 165 pounds, might have spent the entire season last year on the JV team had there been one. Instead, he came on in midseason and took over the quarterback position and is now a captain as a sophomore.
“The brotherhood, the teamwork, it grew a lot,” Hunter said. “Our teammates are working together, it really grew, it became a bigger thing. The coaches really emphasized that: the team and just the brotherhood.”
The offensive line has only one senior in Brendan Yamamura (5-8, 210), but sophomore Isaac Akinaka (5-8, 230) and junior Peighton Akina (5-7, 170) add starting experience.
Junior Titus Rodrigues (5-9, 190) will see time on both the offensive line and at linebacker. The defensive line is led by senior Brandon Chung (5-9, 200).
Junior Aric Mendoza and senior R.J. Helgeson will be the major targets for Hunter.
Last season, Na Alii finished with 36 players on one team — this season’s varsity roster lists 34 players. More importantly, the team grade-point average rose from below 2.0 to around 3.0 within the last 12 months, said Valle.
“That’s something that we definitely want to emphasize, the academic side,” he said. “We want to focus on academics and make sure that they’re successful when football is all done.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org
2017 SEASON PREVIEWS
Kamehameha Kapalama at Lahainaluna, 3 p.m.
Baldwin vs. Saint Louis at Aloha Stadium, 3:30 p.m.
Maui High at Kamehameha Hawaii, 7 p.m.
King Kekaulike at Lahainaluna, 7 p.m.
Maui High at Kamehameha Maui, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 19
Baldwin vs. Mission Viejo (Calif.) at War Memorial Stadium, 6 p.m.
NA ALII AT A GLANCE
2016 record–0-8 overall, 0-8 MIL
Returning starters–8 offense, 5 defense