There’s no easing into the season for Konawaena.
To kickoff a year that is rife with uncertainty, the Wildcats are heading to Oahu to face perennial prep goliath Kahuku.
The Wildcats’ contest against the Red Raiders is set to kickoff at 6 p.m. Saturday and highlights the Week 1 games around the state, pitting the state runner-up in Division II and a top-tier Open Division team.
“It feels like it came so fast. It’s almost surreal,” Brad Uemoto said. “We have never really scheduled games in the first week. It’s less time to prepare, but it is what it is. We’ll be ready to go.”
Konawaena left on Friday, and is carrying a travel roster of just more than 30 players for the opening week game.
Uemoto has heard the noise and is well aware of the perception of the matchup. Crazy, nuts and insane have all been thrown around, and he admits that initially even he was a bit wary to take the game.
But if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best — or at least see the best. The “anybody, anytime, anywhere” mantra of Pat Hill’s Fresno State teams from the early 2000s won out, and the Wildcats booked the matchup on Oahu’s North Shore.
“A lot of people who have been to a football game in Laie have a similar response. They say, ‘I don’t know how to explain it.’ It’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” Uemoto said. “That’s part of the reason we scheduled it. We want to share that with everyone who makes it out there — our players, coaches and fans.”
Uemoto is confident that regardless of what the scoreboard reads after four quarters, the experience of the trip will pay dividends down the stretch.
“What I talked to the team about was winning the small battles,” Uemoto said. “Complete a pass, get a first down, make them punt. A win or a tight game would be great, but there are lots of different things we can take away that don’t have to do with the final score.”
The game will also be the debut of freshman quarterback Sheynen Nahale, who takes over under center for three-time BIIF offensive player of the year Austin Ewing. Ewing was a three-year starter and the catalyst during the Wildcats’ latest threepeat, finishing his Wildcat career as one of the state’s all-time leading passers.
Uemoto joked to his freshman QB that the rest of his career will only get easier.
“Sheynen has been around the program for a while and knows what is expected,” Uemoto said, adding that Wyatt Nahale, Sheynen’s dad, is the JV head coach. “They have been mentally preparing him since middle school.”
While there are some holes to fill, the Wildcats do return a chunk of talent in All-BIIF picks Hunter Wehrsig (WR/DB), Avery Blanco (OL), Tevin Canda (OL/DL), Alex Muti (DL/LB), Boaz Ayers (DB) and outstanding specialist Harry Hill (K/P).
Kahuku is under the guidance of first year head coach Sterling Carvalho. He previously helped lead the Red Raiders’ JV squad to success.
Kahuku has won the last three OIA crowns and have finished runner-up to ILH power Saint Louis in the Open Division state championship the last two seasons. The school has won eight state titles since the state championship era began in 1999 and has also gained a reputation for churning out NFL talent. The Red Raiders haven’t dropped their opener since 2013 against Saint Louis.
Kahuku lost a half-dozen all-state players from last year’s roster, including standout quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava, who transferred to St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., for his junior year. Against the Wildcats, Thorton Alapa and Robbie Sauvao are expected to handle the QB duties.
But despite some new faces, there’s little doubt Kahuku will be a formidable foe with a powerful running game and a defense that has a stingy reputation. Offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi, linebacker Miki Ah You and defensive back Kaonohi Kaniho were all first-team all-state picks last year and are touted as some of the top recruits in the state at their positions.
It will be the second official meeting between the teams in the past 45 seasons. The last time the programs met was in the quarterfinals of the first state tournament in 1999, with the Red Raiders besting the Wildcats 47-14.
Konawaena faces Kapaa to wrap up its preseason next weekend, kicking off the season against westside rival Kealakehe on Aug. 24.
Pearl City at Kealakehe, Saturday at 7 p.m.
Waverider Stadium will get a jolt for opening weekend as the Chargers come to visit.
Kealakehe is looking to start its season on a high note after a BIIF D-I runner up finish to eventual state champion, Hilo.
Pearl City is coming off a 7-3 season, which ended in the OIA D-II championship against Waipahu. Micah Quillopo-Jamile is a standout pass-catcher for the Chargers, with Makana Canyon and Christian Taelu battling for the starting QB job.