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VIDEO: Lunas excited to kick off D-I era

Four-time D-II state champs ‘super hungry’ after lost ’20 season

Lahainaluna High School football players go through conditioning drills during a session at Lahaina Recreation Center field on Monday. The Lunas — winners of the last four Division II state titles — are making their much-anticipated move up to the Division I level this season. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photos

LAHAINA — It was just simple conditioning drills under the late afternoon West Maui sun, but it was special to the 50 or so Lahainaluna High School football players in attendance at the Lahaina Rec Center field on Monday.

“I love it, I’m super excited, you know, I’m ready for this year,” said rising senior running back Blare Sylva-Viela. “I’ve been training all year, I know these boys, too. Everybody’s ready to get back to it. Super excited to be out here.”

The last time the Lunas played a football game, Joshua Tihada was capping the best career for a running back the Maui Interscholastic League has ever seen, running for a state tournament-record 310 yards in a 21-10 victory over Kapaa in the 2019 Division II state championship game.

With Tihada now preparing for his second season at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the next time the four-time defending D-II state champs play, Sylva-Viela is likely to be one of the featured ballcarriers.

Lahainaluna players go through conditioning drills Monday at Lahaina Recreation Center field.

The Lunas will also be playing to start their quest for a state berth at the Division I level when the Maui Interscholastic League season begins in a couple months — the much-anticipated schedule has yet to be released.

“We can be the best, we’ve just got to put the work and the time in,” Sylva-Viela said. “We can pull it off.”

Missing the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic “makes us super hungry, oh yeah, all of us,” Sylva-Viela said. “I think there’s going to be some big plays this year.”

Sylva-Viela said the West Maui community has been anticipating the move to D-I as much as the players have.

“I hear it all the time, gotta be really serious this year, now it’s a whole different division, different level, so we’ve just got to work that much harder,” Sylva-Viela said.

The Lunas have been working out in the mornings and evenings on Mondays and Tuesdays at Lahaina Rec Center field since June 1. Attendance has been consistently strong for the combined practices with varsity and junior varsity players.

“We’re looking at about 50, 60 players coming out on a regular basis, which is pretty good with the long layoff,” varsity co-head coach Dean Rickard said. “I think they’re just happy to be out here, getting something done, getting back into shape, getting back into that mindset is the important part right now. A lot of these kids have been playing flag football mainly, but they know that different mechanics, different moves, different techniques are going to have to come into play sooner or later.”

The foundation they are laying now is huge to being ready to move on when official start dates and state tournament dates are released by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, which will then allow the MIL schedules to be revealed.

“Conditioning is going to be an important factor, especially when we go into the season as far as tackling and getting acclimated to that point and being ready, so that when we are able to have contact we’ll be in that much better condition to prepare for that, in anticipation of contact drills,” Rickard said.

No preseason games against teams from other leagues will be played by the MIL, but scrimmages with other MIL teams is allowed, the league announced last week.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is, at least for the first season back from the pandemic,” Rickard said. “I can understand the cautious nature that the HHSAA or the MIL wants to take. For me, it’s something that we can capitalize on as far as the scrimmages with the other schools. I’ve already reached out to some of the other coaches and we’d be interested, they’d be interested.”

The Lunas, who are riding a 25-game MIL winning streak dating to 2016, have made the most of competitive non-league games in the preseason time of the year to prepare for state tournament play. That is not an option this year as they venture into Division I play at the state level, should they claim the MIL berth.

“Of course it’s always good to see other teams and get an idea who else is out there in other leagues, but that’s not going to be the case,” Rickard said. “We have enough, I think, competition here on Maui alone that we can have some pretty good scrimmages against each other in preparation for the actual season. We look forward to trying to put things together.”

Tevita Hong, a rising junior fullback/linebacker, said he had some doubts that the 2021 season would ever arrive.

“I’m stoked,” Hong said. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m glad that we’re out here practicing with each other. I really am excited to be going to Division I, something new, something challenging, but I think our team can handle it.

“I wasn’t sure we were going to be back out here, but now that I see us out here practicing, it kind of gives me a sense of … I don’t know, it feels really good to be back out here.”

The Lunas’ ceiling is up to them, according to Hong.

“Honestly it depends on how hard everyone is willing to work and willing to do their jobs, get their assignments done on the field and off the field in the classroom,” Hong said. “And just think about the team and how good we can be as a whole.”

Noah Arase, a senior safety, said the youngsters in attendance will add some solid contributors to the mix.

“Very, very excited, nice to see all the younger kids coming out and just practicing hard,” Arase said. “We have very good potential, the younger guys are very advanced for their age, a lot more mature than we were at their age. I think they’re going to be a very good team in the future.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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