BIIF football preview: Hilo’s Atuekaho hoping to sing championship tune again
Hilo senior Sione Atuekaho is often in the spotlight at quarterback, but he’s also overlooked much like the third singer of the Three Tenors.
Almost anyone who has an appreciation for soothing music knows all about Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. But what’s the name of that third guy, again?
It’s pretty much the same thing for Atuekaho, who last season steered the Vikings to their first Big Island Interscholastic Federation championship since 2003.
The All-BIIF Division I first-team quarterback honor shined on someone else. Atuekaho received honorable mention, while running back Tristin Spikes and receiver Donavan Kelley landed on the first team.
Spikes has already made a name for himself. First the funny or not-so-funny part, in something of a running joke, his first name has been misspelled more times than he can count.
He’s also the reigning BIIF co-offensive player of the year, after a productive junior season of 1,227 yards on 158 carries. Spikes is also the grandson of the late George Kela, who died July 29, 2013. Kela was a star running back for the Vikings in the 1960s.
Kelley has established himself as a versatile and talented weapon. As a sophomore in 2012, he was on the All-BIIF first team at receiver and got honorable mention at running back.
Meanwhile, Atuekaho kept singing the same tune during the offseason: work hard and remember his roots.
He was at Hilo’s summer fun training camp from noon to 6 p.m. every day, except for time off to care for family on the mainland. Atuekaho ate his Wheaties, grew an inch to 6 feet, 3 inches and now weighs 205 pounds, a gain of nearly 20 pounds.
Atuekaho moved from California to the Big Island when he was 5 years old to live with his grandparents Sione and Mele Kuli. Grandma Mele lives and works on Maui to support the family, and serves as inspirational fire.
“I’m lucky if I get to see her every month,” he said. “She’s given me everything I need. When I go to college, I’d like to be an architect and when I get a job, hopefully, I can take care of her, and give her what she wants. That’s all I want.
“My grandparents push me in school and on the field. They want me to get a good education. I have one aunty who went to college at Southern Oregon. Now she gives back to the family, and I want to do the same.”
He’s on the right track, holding a 3.5 grade-point average. Atuekaho put up a recruiting profile on ncsasports.org. After football, he’ll close his BIIF career playing volleyball, skipping basketball.
Atuekaho is a mixed plate of nationalities: Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, German and Japanese. He’s also the special ingredient for Hilo’s best shot at back-to-back BIIF titles – a feat last accomplished way back in 1976 and ’77.
“He’s a prototypical quarterback. He’s 6-3 and still growing into his frame,” coach Dave Baldwin said. “He understands our system and playbook, and has been in the system three years. We’re looking for him to take that next step where the coaches can be fans and watch games, and he’ll be the general and coach on the field.”
Atuekaho has the body of a wide receiver, tall and lean, but his skill-set as a dual-threat QB leans toward his ability to spot a hole, make defenders miss, and gain yards – much like a running back.
The passing part was something sharpened during the summer with a daily log of repetitions. Baldwin complimented Atuekaho’s field savvy, scanning his options and throwing the ball to the open target. Obviously, it’s much easier to defend the run if an aerial attack is not working, a reason why Atuekaho is a key to the offense.
“His footwork and decision-making have gotten better,” Baldwin said. “When we can all play in unison and get in a rhythm, it will look like fast-break football.”
If that happens and the Vikings capture consecutive BIIF crowns, maybe Atuekaho makes a big name for himself, just like Jose Carreras of the Three Tenors.
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