Na Alii ready to set foundation
PUKALANI — For a team that hasn’t won a game in nearly four years, there’s a lot to like about King Kekaulike High School football.
Na Alii trailed by only four points in the second half of a season-opening loss to McKinley when they debuted the new $5 million field at King Kekaulike Stadium. Saturday, they came roaring back from 20 points down and had a 2-point conversion attempt to take a late lead in a 20-19 loss at Hawaii Prep.
“Signs of life” was the theme after the loss to McKinley and “learning to win” was the thought process on Saturday, according to co-head coach Tyson Valle.
“These guys, I think they are at a point where they’re excited about what’s happening, excited about what’s to come,” Valle said Saturday. “They can see it, they can feel it.”
King Kekaulike will play its first Maui Interscholastic League home game since 2016 when Maui High comes calling on Saturday to open league play.
“I think they’re ready for the season,” Valle said. “Having two preseason games was a big, big thing for us. We are able to get all our mistakes out, so now we can focus on our season. We’re excited to kick off the season next week.”
After scoring five touchdowns in the entire 2017 season, Na Alii have scored five in two preseason games.
Junior Trey Hunter has moved from quarterback to slotback and the change has been effective — Hunter has caught three TD passes from Franco Melgar Martich to go along with a 78-yard highlight reel kickoff return against the Tigers.
“I can’t even remember the feeling of what it’s like to have a home game,” Hunter said prior to practice earlier this month. “It’s been awhile. We take a lot of pride in that new field, in our school.”
Hunter, who will also see significant time at safety on defense, is the key for Na Alii’s attack. He had 251 all-purpose yards against McKinley and 89 from scrimmage against HPA.
“We always wanted to move him around because of his athletic ability,” Valle said. “What we had a problem with here was we didn’t have any quarterbacks — basically it was just Trey, but now we have some young guys coming up. Now, we’ve got some different options.”
Melgar Martich and T.J. Perkett, both juniors who saw action on the junior varsity last season, are battling for the starting nod at quarterback. Martich has seen the bulk of the snaps in the nonleague slate.
There are 18 varsity players back from last season, 11 combined starters. Many of them will be playing a home MIL game for the first time on Saturday.
“Last season was real, real tough, especially with the practices,” Valle said.
“That’s what affected us the most because we had to practice on the baseball field. That was tough: Not knowing how far we’re running as far as measuring the field, stuff like that.”
On defense, sophomoresZack Hokoana and Helmut Finau Baschleben will be key, along with Hunter.
Hokoana said the vibe is up for this group, which dressed 44 varsity players for the McKinley game.
“We have a lot of talent, everything is perfect — we just have to believe in each other and have each other’s back,” said Hokoana, a defensive lineman. “Just play together as a team.”
Finau Baschleben, a transfer from New Zealand, leads the team in the haka prior to practice and games. He had a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown on Saturday.
“The field is amazing, but I believe that the field doesn’t define us,” Finau Baschleben said. “I believe that what we do on that field defines us. What we do on that field should be what everybody comes for, for us.”
Valle and co-head coach Dennis Dias have not tasted a win in their first two seasons — the HPA loss was the program’s 33rd in a row, dating to Sept. 5, 2014 — but the bricks are being placed, one by one.
“When we started this, we knew it was going to be a long haul, we knew it was going to be tough,” Valle said. “There were some things out there outside of football that we had to fix first. We knew that we had to attack that first in order to get the program aligned to win football games on the field.
“We knew we had to bite our tongue for a little bit, until we could get the athletes into the weight room, get the athletes to actually do an offseason training, and now the momentum has shifted to where those guys are just coming out.”
When will that first win arrive?
“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get that ‘W,’ “ Valle said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
*Robert Collias is at email@example.com.
Na Alii at a glance
2017 record–0-8 overall, 0-8 MIL
Returning starters–5 offense, 6 defense
2018 SEASON PREVIEWS
Baldwin vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
American Leadership Academy (Ariz.) at Kamehameha Maui, 7 p.m. (nonleague)
Maui High at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.