Sabers aim to ‘be better’
After last season’s state semifinal exit, Maui High looks to improve on and off the field
KAHULUI — The Maui High School football program had a golden opportunity in front of it just nine months ago.
A semifinal berth in the Division I state football tournament, just the third state appearance in school history, dissolved into a 26-7 loss in the mud and rain at Wong Stadium to eventual state champion Hilo.
With no Oahu Interscholastic Association team in the bracket, Hilo went on to beat Damien for the Big Island’s first D-I state football crown, something the Maui Interscholastic League is still looking for.
“For me, I took it very hard,” said James Kammerer, the Sabers’ head coach who was the offensive coordinator last season. “I hope that the players did as well, just knowing the potential that we had and we didn’t feel that we lived up to it.”
With a team in position to reach the state tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history, Kammerer is determined not to let the opportunity slip away again. The Sabers open MIL play Saturday night at King Kekaulike.
“Sadly, we did play like rookies last year and it did come from our preparation, it came from how we acted on the trip,” Kammerer said. “So, that’s not the expectation or the norm this year. We’re expecting to be better student-athletes in the classroom, we’re expecting to be better members in the community.
“So, the hope is that we can be healthy, we can put everything together the way we hope to and definitely get past the first round, if possible, and make a semifinal or championship game.”
Kammerer, a former Kahuku standout player and assistant coach, has stepped in to the head job in Kahului while Rodney Figueroa has moved back to defensive coordinator to recover from an illness. Both men say Figueroa will return to the head-coaching position next season and they work closely to help one another.
“Really, we just wish the best for our boys,” Kammerer said. “That they can believe in the process that has begun with coach Figueroa and myself and the other coaches that have been working extremely hard, as well as our administration, and trainers, and lifting coach, and just everyone. As one, we’re hoping to represent Maui and do our best this year.”
The Sabers unveiled a passing attack that accounted for 244 yards in a 31-14 loss to Kauai in their nonleague opener. The Sabers averaged just 66.4 yards passing per game last season, but junior quarterback Brex Delray found five different receivers in the game.
Trent Takara caught six passes for 136 yards, and Christian Lee and Mitchell Hirose each hauled in touchdown receptions.
“We do have talented receivers from last year,” Kammerer said. “Trent Takara, Mitch Hirose, Christian Lee and Torryn Kauhaahaa-Sulusi — those four right there are really good friends and great kids on and off the field.”
Hirose, a 5-foot-6, 145-pound senior, said: “I think we’re really coming together as a team, honestly. We’ve got leaders stepping up. … I think the team is looking good.”
Junior running backs Naia Nakamoto and Solomone Tongi finished third and sixth, respectively, in MIL rushing last season, accounting for 1,140 of the 1,973 rushing yards the Sabers had in MIL play. With those two out for the Kauai game, Maui High managed just 4 net yards on the ground.
“Both gifted athletes, both we’re asking a lot out of them, especially in the leadership realm because they are returnees,” Kammerer said. “I’m excited to see how they’re going to step up to the plate.”
Maui High averaged 313 yards per game last season on offense, while the defense was No. 1 in the MIL, surrendering just 237.1 yards per game.
“This defense is looking real nice,” said Viliami Makoni, a 6-0, 270-pound senior defensive lineman who spent last season attending Alta High School in Utah. “We started off really slow, but as we slowly progress and as we slowly bond, I’m seeing a lot of improvement.”
Reigning MIL Defensive Player of the Year Atu Falekaono, a 5-10, 245-pound senior linebacker, missed the Kauai game with shin splints. He expects to be ready for Saturday’s MIL opener.
“Two weeks ago, I started to hurt and I wanted to fight the pain, so I did and it got worse, it got swollen, so now I just want to take care of it so I don’t have to have it during my season,” he said. “Leading the team, it’s a big thing because the coaches see a lot in me for putting character into this program. I’m just doing my best.”
Practices have become a little more intense this season.
“Practice-wise, we’ve been trying to increase tempo, increase repetitions,” Kammerer said. “Things haven’t been perfect, but knowing that it’s a long season, really the hustle, the attitude, the behavior — that’s what we’ve been trying to improve.
“I’m pleased with our team, I’m very happy with the players, the relationships that we’ve begun. Leadership is improving, but we still need to improve and maintain that as well. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
*Robert Collias is at email@example.com
SABERS AT A GLANCE
2017 record–5-6 overall, 5-3 MIL (lost to Hilo in Division I state semifinals)
Returning starters–7 offense, 7 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.