Two years ago, Waiakea finished with an 0-7 record, winless for the first time in school history. Then Neil Azevedo took over and went 3-4 in his debut season, filled with optimism everywhere.
The encore will be more difficult. For one thing, Division I is different with the addition of Konawaena, the perennial Division II powerhouse, and the Warriors will play each opponents twice.
The roster, deep and experienced from a year ago, got withered though graduation. The depth is gone and so are a lot of veterans.
“We’re looking decent,” Azevedo said. “We’ve got 15 seniors. This is a young team. We’ve got a small squad, 35-plus.”
Justin Nakamoto-Baltazar returns at quarterback and will be in charge of calling his own plays.
“Justin has a good attitude, and he’s always playing hard. He’s like a kid in a candy store,” Azevedo said. “The quarterback will call everything from the line. He’ll have free reign this year.”
The Warriors will run the spread, and the key to the offense is to be balanced with the run and pass.
Isaiah-Carter Bundy-Wong, a 5-foot-5, 185-pound senior, will be the lone back and is described as “small but solid.”
Kamahao Kailipaka, the fastest on the team will start at one wide receiver spot, and Samson Thomas, an athletic senior transfer from Oahu, will be at the other spot.
Deshaun Lopes and Reyn Segovia-Tanonaka will be the slotbacks. They both have good hands, and a solid work ethic and will down double as perimeter run blockers.
Makoa Ramirez (6-5, 290), a returning senior, anchors the offensive line at tackle. Isaac Dakujaku (5-7, 190) will start at the other OT spot. Landon Alvarado (6-1, 260) will start at guard and Samuel Harrison-Cummings (5-11, 220) at center.
“They definitely should be all right,” Azevedo said. “Plenty of them are first-year players. They should hold their ground, and will be playing both ways.”
Ethan Correa (6-4, 310) will lead the charge on the defensive line. He’s got lot of size and enthusiasm for run stopping and pocket pressure.
“He’s strong, and he doesn’t know how much power he’s got. He’s a very happy kid.”
The Warriors will likely be happy, too, when he’s drawing double teams, clogging running lanes, and collapsing passing pockets.
Osmond George (5-7, 252), another high-energy guys, will also start at DT. Micah Fukunaga and Jacob Luna (6-0, 210) will start at defensive end.
Waylon Spain (5-6, 155), a BIIF judo and wrestling champion, will be the middle linebacker. Kaleko Saiki (6-2, 160) and freshman Matthew Nases (5-7, 150) will flank him.
Spain carries the discipline and respect from his other sports to football, something that catches Azevedo’s eye.
“He hits hard and he’s a good and very respectful kid,” the second-year coach said. “Kaleko has a good attitude. He’s very athletic and tall. Nases has a lot of potential for a freshman.”
“Waylon leads by example. We’re waiting to see who else steps up as a leader.”
Matthew McBraun (5-8, 131) will start at cornerback and will be counted on as a playmaker at a kickoff and punt return man.
“He’s not that big, but he hustles and plays with a lot of heart.”
Tyler Brown (5-8, 140), another senior, will start at the other cornerback spot , and sophomore Renzo Vidad (5-7, 160) will also draw snaps.
Thomas will start at free safety, and Kailipaka will get the nod at strong safety.
Azevedo is still trying to build the culture at Waiakea. Last year, he focused on public speaking for his players to build self-confidence. It helped with the end-of-the-season banquet speeches.
The Warriors had a construction project around the stadium. Azevedo pointed out that 35 players came out to pour concrete and help build a foundation for future Warriors.
“It’s a stepping stone in life,” Azevedo said. “We preach to them about respect and learn about teamwork. They enjoyed it and took pride in it.”
At a glance
Last season: 3-4 BIIF D-I
Coach: Neil Azevedo (second season)
Number to know: 15 – seniors on roster of 35-plus
Quotable: “Justin has a good attitude, and he’s always playing hard.
He’s like a kid in a candy store.”
– Azevedo on quarterback Justin Nakamoto-Baltazar
Saturday vs. Kamehameha 11 a.m.
BIIF Division I
Aug. 24 vs. Honokaa 1:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 vs. Keaau 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Hilo 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Konawaena 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 vs. Kealakehe 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Honokaa 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 vs. Konawaena 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Hilo 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Keaau 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Kealakehe 7:30 p.m.