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Warriors relying on athleticism, skill

Kamehameha Maui brings back one starter from 6-3 season in ’19

Kamehameha School Maui head coach Ulima Afoa (right) explains blocking assignments during a special teams drill Friday afternoon at Kanaiaupuni Stadium. The Warriors open the season on Oct. 30 against Maui High at War Memorial Stadium. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

PUKALANI — When asked about returning starters from the 2019 season, Kamehameha Schools Maui football coach Ulima Afoa didn’t have to think very long.

“Kale Spencer … right now, that would be the only guy,” Afoa said.

Indeed, things have changed quite a bit for the Warriors, who are coming off back-to-back 6-3 overall seasons, which match the school’s best football record ever.

They said goodbye to 19 seniors from the 2019 season and then 2020 was wiped out by COVID-19 concerns.

“Our biggest group of talent is our sophomore group,” Afoa said at practice last Friday. “So, we actually have some size. We’re starting to get more kids with some height and hopefully they continue to stay in the program and they continue to mature and get bigger with the program.

Spencer

“So (Spencer) will play some on both sides of the ball. In our defensive scheme, he can play some from a stand-up position.”

Spencer, the son of former Kamehameha Maui volleyball coach Bala Spencer, was a sophomore standout himself in 2019. He was an honorable mention Maui Interscholastic League All-Star that year as a 6-foot, 180-pound center.

Spencer, a 2019 MIL first team boys volleyball All-Star as a freshman setter, now stands an impressive 6-4, 220. He has missed two volleyball seasons and one in football due to the pandemic.

“It feels amazing … I just love playing with the guys,” Spencer said. “Just love being out here. I think after last year, not having any sports at all, there was definitely a big ‘if’ — like if we were going to play, if there’s going to be fans in the stadium. ‘If,’ it’s all just on ‘if.’ We’re just grateful to be on the field enjoying it.”

The Warriors’ game plan on offense is somewhat complex.

Keegan Gantala holds for Kamehameha Maui teammate Trenton Kiesel while practicing kicking extra points Friday.

“We’re basically spread, one back, multiple sets,” Afoa said. “We try to utilize the strength of our kids, which is they’re pretty athletic. So, we try to create some space. We’re not the biggest up front, so it’s basically just depending on their athleticism to get on people and just kind of stay on people long enough to …

“Again, it’s a little bit of smoke and mirrors, but if you think about it, everybody is kind of running that offense with the exception of Lahainaluna, right? So, we have to come up with some ideas to figure out how to slow Lahainaluna down a bit because you’re never going to stop them.”

Sophomore Makana Kamaka-Brayce is expected to start at quarterback. Like Spencer, he is just happy to be on the field at Kanaiaupuni Stadium.

“It feels amazing, you know, being off for almost a year and a half, just trying to do whatever you can,” Kamaka-Brayce said. “Just being back, it feels amazing.”

On defense, the plan is similar.

Kamehameha Maui players practice blocking technique Friday.

“Our base defense is also multiple,” Afoa said. “Because of the type of athletes that we have, we don’t have the big, two-gap-type guys. So, we’re a gap control (team) and basically it looks like we’re bringing people from all over the place. And we do that intentionally.

“Again, we’re not going to beat you with our power, we’re going to try to slow you down with our athleticism and our skill.”

With Lahainaluna — the four-time defending state Division II champions who have won a record 25 MIL games in a row — moving up to Division I, there is a new path to the state tournament for the Warriors in D-II.

In their six-game MIL slate, three of the contests are against across-the-street rival King Kekaulike. All of the MIL games count, but clearly the D-II Upcountry rivalry games mean a little bit more this year.

“Super excited, you know, we’ve been working and that’s of course always the goal, is that state title,” Kamaka-Brayce said.

Warriors quarterback Makana Kamaka-Brayce follows through on a pass.

The Warriors thought during the summer that they would not field a junior varsity team, but with 53 now on the overall roster, that thought appears to have changed.

The KSM decision that it might not field a JV team came before the break brought on by the state Department of Education decree that all players, coaches and volunteers must be vaccinated for COVID-19 or have an approved medical or religious exemption — that decree halted practice Aug. 4 and it resumed on Sept. 27.

“I think we’re going to try to accommodate what the MIL is trying to do,” Afoa said. “According to Jon (Viela, the KSM athletic director and MIL football coordinator) they will be doing some sort of controlled (scrimmage) situation prior to our games.

“It’s like everything else, this pandemic has kind of hit everybody. All I know is I’m glad that I’m out, us coaches, we’re glad that we’re out and we’ve got some guys to teach. And they’re happy to be out, too.”

Reached on Thursday, Viela also confirmed that all seven Saturday afternoon games that had been planned for 3 p.m. kickoffs at War Memorial Stadium have been moved to 7 p.m. starts.

Jai Jibas joins Spencer as one of “seven or eight” seniors, “probably seven or eight juniors, a whole bunch of sophomores, double digits, and then we’re bringing up two or three freshmen,” Afoa said. “Obviously (the freshmen) are going to start or we wouldn’t bring them up. They are going to play a lot.

“I’m not the old traditional (guy) where it’s a hierarchy thing where depending on that grade level you’re at you get to play. No, from where I come from, the best players play.”

Jibas, a 5-11, 220-pound offensive tackle/defensive end/inside linebacker, said “It just feels great to come out here and do something I love to do and be out here with great guys who work hard.”

Like Spencer, Jibas knows how important it will be to lead this young team.

“I think it’s super important, to be able to help my team out in any way I can and just be a role model for the younger ones that we have,” Jibas said.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Warriors at a Glance

2019 record: 5-3 MIL, 6-3 overall

Returning starters: 1 offense, 1 defense

Offense: Spread, one back, multiple sets

Defense: Multiple

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