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O-line a big strength for Na Alii

Team’s strongest unit a big reason for switch to run-heavy Wing T

King Kekaulike High School players run a play during a practice last month at King Kekaulike Stadium. Na Alii open Maui Interscholastic League play Friday at home against Baldwin. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

PUKALANI — They add up to nearly 30 feet and 1,385 pounds of power for the King Kekaulike High School football team.

The five players who will start for Na Alii’s offensive line range from gargantuan to on the small side, but they appear to be the strongest unit on the team and are a big reason for the move to a run-heavy Wing T offense for the 2022 season.

The center is Kimo Moniz-Kekumu (6-foot, 360, Jr.), the guards are Nui Crozier (6-4, 405, Sr.) and Aaliikumukali Valle (5-7, 170, So.), and the two tackle spots will be Devin Roberts (5-10, 225, Sr.), and Peniamine Lafaele (6-0, 225, Jr).

Ryder Cleghorn (6-1, 350, So.), River Morris (6-0, 240, So.), Wesley Wright (6-1, 290, Sr.), Kosidos Kosi (6-1, 260, Jr.) and Derrick Tolentino (5-9, 260, Jr.) all are ready to add impressive depth to both sides of the line, as well.

“So, our line is stacked, we’re looking at some big boys,” King Kekaulike head coach Tyson Valle said.

Crozier

Coach Valle liked what he saw from the Wing T in a hard-fought 21-10 loss to Waimea in a preseason game on Saturday night at King Kekaulike Stadium.

“Being in the Wing T for the first time we saw a lot of good, positive stuff,” Valle said. “One missed block away from breaking a run, but when we did hit it we were gone. So, I was very impressed with how we drove the ball.”

Crozier’s given first name is Nalaninui’akea, but he goes by Nui. That nickname is the only thing small about Crozier.

“Real fun, it’s real fun out here,” Crozier said. “I love run-blocking. It’s fun to look at the fear on the scout D’s eyes when they see me, like, running at them or they see me pulling. So, that’ll never get old. I love that.”

Crozier will also see plenty of time on defense at tackle and nose guard, but he is first and foremost an offensive lineman.

King Kekaulike quarterback Kalelepono Wong carries the ball against Kamehameha Maui on Dec. 10.

The offseason program that has returned is also a key for Na Alii, who won three games in 2019, snapping a 41-game losing streak in the process. Even after losing 2020 to COVID and enduring last season’s abbreviated 0-6 all-Maui Interscholastic League schedule, Upcountry’s public high school looks like it is building for the future in a strong way.

“That to me (the offseason program) is the biggest thing that we have started years ago and then when COVID hit and we didn’t have that offseason program, I mean, it killed us, it just killed us,” Tyson Valle said. “So, having them back in the offseason program really puts a lot of the fundamentals back in play, weight training, and just getting them ready for the pads.”

With 50 players on the varsity roster and 33 on junior varsity, “the program is healthy,” Valle said.

Kalelepono Wong has emerged at quarterback as Jacob Poouahi, last season’s opening day starter, has moved and stood out at linebacker.

“As we got into the season, he really stepped up to the plate as our QB last year, definitely took on a role that he quite wasn’t ready for (last year),” Valle said of Wong. “This year, he’s put in a lot of time in the offseason, so I’m excited to see what he does this year.”

King Kekaulike head coach Tyson Valle looks on during practice last month.

Wong threw to Kamakalei Stone for Na Alii’s only touchdown in the loss to Waimea, but he will have several options to hand the ball to when they run their Wing T offense.

Wong threw for two touchdowns and three interceptions last year as a sophomore — he also rushed for 145 yards, with a 5.8-yard average per carry, and two TDs — and now he relishes the thought of the bulldozers in front of him.

“Oh, I feel very confident behind them,” Wong said. “It’s like a wall, a huge wall.”

Wong knows the run game helps the passing game.

“If we’re running, pounding the holes hard, I feel like the defense will step up to the run and open up holes for the passing game,” Wong said.

Wong is having a ball with a nucleus of players he has been with since he was a child.

“It’s amazing, I’ve been playing with these boys since Pop Warner days,” Wong said. “It’s crazy to see everybody’s development and see everybody grow.”

Wong said the offseason program has helped his personal development.

“The conditioning, in the weight room, getting my numbers up,” Wong said. “Getting ready for the season, we’ve got to prepare as much as we can and we did it in the offseason. Absolutely, I feel like we’re ready to roll.”

Coach Valle likes what he sees, especially when he finds himself in the shade provided by his offensive line.

“We have a lot of runners this year, so we’re looking at that, but I think overall our line is the biggest factor this year for us,” Valle said. “We got guys pushing 300, some 400-pounders out there, but the linemen have been working since January in the offseason.

“So, our line I think will be a big factor for us, combined with a lot of running backs.”

Perhaps the leader of the running back pack is Tysin Zackious, who was part of an 11-2 team in North Torrance, Calif., last season — he moved to the school for one year, due to COVID restrictions here.

He can’t wait to run behind this O-line.

“I’m pretty excited, like these guys I feel comfortable running behind,” Zackious said at practice last week. “Like, I can put my life with them, I know that they will get my back.”

The Wing T plan appears to fit the personnel perfectly.

“I think this offense can be one of the greatest offenses that this school has ever come out with,” Zackious said. “I think that this is going to be a real talented team right here.”

Crozier said of Zackious: “He’s one of the best running backs I know. I’m really looking forward to it. I mean, I’ve been playing with him since sixth or seventh grade and so this is kind of our last hurrah. I’m really looking forward to opening up some holes and blocking and making sure he scores.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Na Alii at a Glance

2021 record: 0-6 MIL, 0-6 overall

Returning starters: 10 offense, 10 defense

Offense: Wing T

Defense: 4-3

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