Warriors ready to fill in, step up
Coming off best season in school history, Kamehameha Maui turns to Adams, Tolentino
PUKALANI — Tiliti Adams is the perfect example of what is building at Kanaiaupuni Stadium.
Last season, necessity pushed him into the the primary quarterback spot for Kamehameha Schools Maui. Adams responded in his first full season ever as a quarterback by leading the Warriors to their best winning percentage season in school history.
Now, as a senior, he has moved into perhaps even bigger shoes as he takes over for Tristan Catan on defense.
“I’m pretty much just filling in for Tristan Catan because he played everywhere,” Adams said at practice last week. “Wherever the team needs me most, that’s where they’re putting me. Right now, I’m starting at safety, but if they need me to go to corner or another linebacker, I will go and do it.”
Catan was simply a do-everything player for the Warriors last season. He passed for five touchdowns in Maui Interscholastic League play, was the No. 6 rusher in the league with 197 yards, caught eight passes, scored four touchdowns and played all over the field on defense.
“I knew it would be big shoes to fill,” Adams said. “He was phenomenal for this program. I’m just going to do my best to fill his shoes.”
Adams was the No. 2 passer in the MIL last season, throwing for 1,369 yards and 19 touchdowns. Now, that job belongs to junior Alec Tolentino, who has come up from the junior varsity team to lead the single-back, multiple-set offense under head coach Ulima Afoa.
Tolentino threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another touchdown in a 39-0 win over Molokai in a preseason game on Aug. 10. He completed 68 percent of his passes and did not throw an interception.
“It’s really fun,” Tolentino said of the Warriors’ offense after that game.
Afoa liked what he saw from Tolentino against the Farmers, who were playing up from their regular eight-player schedule.
“I think he’s still learning a lot, he’s young,” Afoa said. “Obviously, he will make young mistakes. That’s how it goes. The more playing time, the more he’s in those situations, the better decision-making he gets to have, so it’s all about playing time. It’s all about experiencing the thing because that’s what you’ve really got to hang your hat on as a quarterback.
“Last year, he was the JV quarterback–this year the kids are bigger, faster, so your decision-making has to be a lot faster.”
Tolentino has the MIL leader in reception yardage to throw to in Karsyn Pupunu, who had 29 catches for 530 yards and a league-best eight receiving touchdowns last season.
“We just have to keep on working, everybody has got to put in their work,” said the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Pupunu, who caught four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown against Molokai. “And I think we’re going to come out good this year.”
Afoa sees a solid college receiver in Pupunu, perhaps at the NCAA Division I level.
“I think whoever gives him a shot is going to get a diamond-in-the-rough,” Afoa said. “Because if you have the work ethic and you have the drive to continue to get better, and you have some tools, the ceiling is very high.”
Ezekiel Weber caught three passes for 93 yards and Kahiau Kaniho had six grabs against the Farmers.
“Alex put in a lot of work this summer and I think that if we just keep on grinding like how we’ve been doing, and just keep that connection going and keep that science between us, things will be good,” Pupunu said. “We worked together a lot this summer. It helped a lot.”
Afoa said his team can build on last season’s success, but it will not come easy.
“You have got to continue to work,” Afoa said. “What happened last year is last year. Last year is over, so you start all over again and you continue to progress. The only way you can continue to progress is to keep working harder, keep pushing, keep pushing.
“There is no secret to how you can get better. It just takes a lot of hard work. It takes dedication and guys have to show up.”
Afoa knows that an impressive group of seniors left campus in May.
“Rather than run away from that role, I think a lot of these kids embraced the fact that, ‘Hey, we lost some key players,’ but to them it’s ‘Next man up,’ “ Afoa said. “I think that’s kind of the attitude we all adapt in this program. We are thankful for those that came before, but they set the stage and now we have to continue to push the envelope.”
The Warriors open MIL play Friday against Baldwin.
Afoa said the defensive leaders will be Adams, senior defensive back Kapena Gushiken, senior linebacker Slade Teshima and senior nose guard Michael Kalalau, who will also start on the offensive line.
“We’ve got a pretty good linebacking corps, Kalalau does a great job up front,” Afoa said. “He has to play both ways, but we try to give him enough rest where he is on top of his game when he’s playing.”
Afoa watched the Molokai game film, and it put a smile on his face.
“I liked the fact that our kids played hard,” he said. “That’s a non-negotiable item here, playing with intensity and playing fast. Those are baseline things, the standard that we try to uphold. We try to play to our standard, regardless of who lines up in front of us.
“We set our standards pretty high. We don’t always achieve them, but we’re going to have a hell of a lot of great times. There’s only one way we know how to play: Fast, hard, smart.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2019 SEASON PREVIEWS
Baldwin at Kamehameha Maui, 7 p.m.
Lahainaluna at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.
Maui High at Kauai, 7 p.m.