BIIF football preview: Following its dynastic approach, Hilo loads up for another title run

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Hard work at practice, such as this one Thursday, has helped Hilo win six BIIF D-I football titles in a row.

Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo will not be writing 35-0, or any score that would force a running clock, on the chalkboard before each game this season as a halftime objective.

But considering the current landscape of new-look BIIF Division I football, that’s essentially one of the Vikings’ goals.

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Before a barrage of team strengths and positives are listed, there is one negative of note: the varsity roster of 38 is markedly lower than usual. Meanwhile, the regular season is much more of a grind, increasing from seven games to 10.

“The quicker we can handle our business and move on, that’s ideal, less opportunity to get injuries,” Drummondo said. “The plan every week is having a good game plan, being able to adjust, making sure we get in and get out without injuries, and be ready for the next challenge the next week.”

He’s got a team that appears to be ready to take on all challengers on this island and beyond.

Everybody’s job in D-I got harder with the addition of Konawaena and Honokaa, but everyone else is chasing six-time champion Hilo, which is looking to rebound from a 42-22 beating at the hands of Waipahu in last season’s HHSAA title game.

“We were devastated,” senior Kalen White said. “First of all, we want to keep our BIIF streak intact. We don’t want to be the team that lets it end.”

A seventh championship shouldn’t take all that much luck.

There is an embarrassment of riches at receiver, a senior quarterback primed to play maestro, several able bodies back on the offensive line and a defense that is overflowing with difference-makers at all three levels.

“Experience-wise this is comparable to how we were in 2017,” said Drummondo, alluding to Hilo’s lone state-title winning team. “Experience and talent, having that balance.”

There are first-world problems in the BIIF, then there are Hilo’s “problems.”

“It’s hard,” quarterback Kyan Miyasato said, “because we have all these weapons everywhere and they all want the ball. We don’t know how to share it around yet. They all want the stats and they all want to be stars.”

Save for Konawaena’s Alex Muti, Hilo has a monopoly on league Players of the Year now that Kilohana Haasenritter (1,029 total yards, 10 touchdowns in 2018 for Kamehameha) is a Viking for his senior season.

The University of Hawaii commit joins a receiving group that already includes D-I POY Fiki Aguiar (833 total yards, 15 TDs) and Guyson Ogata, who was also an all-league selection last season. Both are seniors.

Drummondo said Haasenritter already has bought into the team’s “we is greater than me motto.”

“We’re going to work everything out to make sure everybody gets the ball,” Haasenritter said. “I don’t worry about stats. As long as the team is doing well, then I’m fine.”

He called his commitment to UH a blessing but said it doesn’t change anything at practice, where’s he’s happy to be part of an environment where “iron sharpens iron.”

Haasenritter could take snaps at running back or from center, and he says he’s all caught up on the playbook after studying during the offseason. He’s practicing at cornerback and safety on the other side of the ball.

“I feel I always have to work hard no matter what cause there is always someone out there trying to work harder than you,” Haasenritter said.

The team’s least accomplished receiver, junior Kaimi Tiogangco, is perhaps the one Drummondo is looking forward to seeing the most.

“For him, it’s a confidence thing,” Drummondo said. “I don’t think he understands how talented he really is.”

Tiogangco also could see time at quarterback, though Miyasato is looking to take the next step after finally taking over the full-time duties last season.

He possesses all the physical tools to succeed, his coach said, throwing for 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season in BIIF play.

“I understand the offense and what our purpose is and what the game plan is and what work we need to put in,” Miyasato said.

Also looking for touches will be a pair of junior running backs, Shesly Martinez, who transferred back to the team after a year at Ka’u, and Don Moody, who transferred in from Alaska.

Drummondo called the offensive line play “up and down last season, but they did their job.”

The returning starters are senior left guard Sione Holani and senior center Kason Abadilla. Senior Kaz Kua appears to have a hold of the right tackle position. Vying for the other two spots are senior Kawika Leehong, the third-most experienced of the linemen, junior Collin Fujimoto-Young and senior Lolo Holika.

Defensively, Hilo returns six all-BIIF players, and that doesn’t include the athletic Haasenritter.

Drummondo came to Hilo in 2012 as a defensive coordinator under former coach David Baldwin, and he hasn’t relinquished the reins since taking full control of the program in 2015.

He certainly wasn’t going to do it this season.

“I really like the blend of blend of experience, physicality and speed we have coming back,” he said.

The headliner is White, who earned BIIF D-I defensive player of the year after filling the stat sheet in 2018: 103 tackles, 13 for loss, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, three sacks, and a safety.

He’ll play his share of linebacker along with all-BIIF returnees Mana Price, a junior, and Lyle Silva, a sophomore, though White also can also play safety and will move up and down and side to side as warranted to threaten teams as an edge rusher.

“A luxury to have a player that has an IQ like him,” Drummondo said. “Understanding on what we’re doing on defense, you don’t have that all the time. To have it is comforting as a coach.”

More comfort can be found in the secondary. There are a pair of potential shutdown cornerbacks in senior Elijah Apao and Haasenritter, and senior Kainalu Lewis was an all-league safety last season. Senior Layne Deperalta, formerly of Waiakea, is in the mix at safety along with junior Kapana Kanae-Kane, who received playing time last season. Another cornerback to watch is senior Keola Balga.

Holding the point of attack up front will be sophomore nose guard Tysen Kaniaupio, and another all-BIIF selection on the line can be found in end Joshua Niro, a senior.

Also in the rotation of six are ends Kayden Alameda, a senior, and Kanalu Kunewa, a junior who is up from the JV squad, and manning the interior are juniors Diver Puglados and Kalai Kamalii.

“No doubt,” Drummondo said, “at this point last season we were trying to replace many more holes.

“As always, we have to understand that everything starts at practice.”

The Vikings won’t get their first game action until Friday night against Kamehameha-Hawaii, so to help fill the void Hilo traveled to Oahu in July for a set of scrimmages against powerhouses such as Kamehameha-Kapalama and Campbell.

White liked what he saw.

“I was shocked at how together we were as a team,” he said. “How early it was, and we were already one family. It didn’t take us long to bond.”

Schedule

Nonleague

Aug. 16 vs. Kamehameha 7:30 p.m.

BIIF Division I

Aug. 23 at Keaau 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 at Kealakehe 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 5 vs. Waiakea 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Honokaa 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at Konawaena 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Keaau 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Honokaa 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Waiakea 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Kealakehe 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Konawaena 7:30 p.m.

At a glance

Last season: 9-2, won sixth consecutive BIIF D-I title, lost to Waipahu 42-22 in state final

Coach: Kaeo Drummondo (fifth season)

Number to know: 6 – all-BIIF returnees on defense

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Quotable: “It’s hard, because we have all these weapons everywhere and they all want the ball.”

– quarterback Kyan Miyasato

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