Wright On: As times change, Vikings’ coach a mountain of stability

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Kaeo Drummondo leads Hilo HIgh.

This may not be true in every high school or college in every state in the country, but from a career of observance, one can make the defensible statement that football coaches, of all coaches, deal with unintended consequences more than coaches in other sports.

This opinion comes armed with no list of statistics to prove the contention, but it well could be the overriding principle in most locations for two simple reasons:

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1. Football is the most violent of all sports and full speed collisions are baked into the game. Stuff happens.

2. Compared to other team sports, football almost always draws the largest turnout of aspiring players for the basic reason that 22 players are required — not counting kickers, punters, holders, return specialists, etc. — to put a football team on the field. Soccer requires 11, baseball 9, volleyball 6, you get the idea.

All things being equal, it only makes sense that more numbers add up to more issues, but this all takes on additional meaning at places like Kealakehe and Hilo where high school football coaches are also police officers dealing with random issues, and this has been anything but a normal year for those individuals.

At Hilo, as an example, during preseason workouts and training, head coach Kaeo Drummondo had a 12-day run where he was assigned the 6 p.m. — 6 a.m. shift at Maunakea, maintaining a level of peace and security as protestors gathered to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope on the mountainside.

Every coach in every sport has a practice plan, an offseason schedule for prospective athletes and a day-by-day focus on what needs to be accomplished and when.

Overnight shifts obviously complicate the process and you can’t find a coach anymore that doesn’t have a process that needs to be followed, rigorously.

“It’s not always pretty,” Drummondo said last week prior to a practice session on the suboptimal field the Vikings must use, “but you learn as you go, and you adjust as you need to adjust.

“It’s kind of like football in that way,” he said, with a smile that suggested it was the concept he was working with, if not one he fully believed. “We’re all learning and adjusting as we go.”

Sudden change is a real thing in football, a concept coaches try to sell to their players because they know it will be a game-time reality. It may not happen every game, but it happens a lot:

Your team is moving the ball steadily down the field, passing in open holes in the defense, then a run up the middle gets another first down, just like it was drawn up. A touchdown here might just lock up a victory and a slant gets one more first down inside the 10, time to score. But on the next play, someone forces the issue, a pass gets intercepted at the goal line and run back all the way for a touchdown. Instead of nailing down a victory, your team has just fallen behind.

All that enthusiasm and belief goes away like a punch to the gut. The change is felt throughout team, a devastating, immediate turn of events.

Those are the moments coaches find out what kind of football team and football players they have.

The Hilo High School football team has been going through a series of sudden changes, just like the Kealakehe squad with a coaching staff that has to make adjustments on the run. The coach can’t be here for the first hour, now what?

You never want to say it’s nothing new, because it is a change to have your head coach gone for a time because he’s a cop dealing with a major protest, but at Hilo, spontaneous disruption is part of the deal.

Have you seen the field they practice on? It’s tilted, for starters, lower at one end than the other, with holes pockmarking the turf, noticeably, providing real danger. Run into a hole and you could badly damage a leg or ankle, so they recently filled up the holes with sand.

Now, a receiver can go out for a pass, make a cut in the sand and go down in a heap. The sand holes are preventing more serious injury, but they are, at the very least, sub-optimal.

“We have been adaptable, I’ll say that, we have often and to adjust on a daily basis, whether its facility-related, weather-related, lots of things happen that make us change our plans,” Drummondo said. “At the end of the day, we find a way to get our work in, and the kids have been pretty good about it.

“I enjoy my career (as a police officer),” he said, “but this is a nice getaway from everything going on. You learn to compartmentalize, to delegate to your staff and have the confidence they will get it done; I’m lucky to have a staff that has been together a good while.”

One of those is Chris Todd, the state house representative for District 2, and an eight-year veteran with Drummondo.

“We all have other obligations that sometimes pull at us,” Todd said. “Sometimes I have to run over to Oahu for legislative stuff but we come together and share some responsibilities and get through it.

“We have a good feeling for (times when Drummondo is gone), that when he does get back, he’ll want to have his eyes on special teams, or some part of defense, so we adjust. If there’s one thing our kids hear all the time, it might be, ‘Be flexible, be ready to adapt in a short time to the situation,’ and we’ve had some experience with that.”

At the state’s highest level.

Two years ago, the Vikings played for a state championship when rival Damien had two touchdowns almost before Hilo was able to break a sweat in the first quarter.

It was 13-0 before the game began to slow down, but moreover, those first few minutes of the state championship marked the first time Hilo had been behind at any point in any game the entire season.

You could say they all transitioned well, walking off the field that night with a 35-19 win. It’s true, they were back last year and were knocked out by Waipahu, but they have a certain belief other BIIF teams cannot have as the Vikings have won six consecutive conference championships.

They might lose 10 practices a year to weather that chases them indoors into the old gym. There might be a few more where a coach is late or a key player has an excused absence.

One way or another, there’s been a capacity, from the head coach on down, to resist panic, maintain a level of confidence and an understanding that a shared belief in the group will carry the day.

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It’s the kind of thing winners learn to do, over time.

Contact Bart with comments and future column topics at barttribuneherald@gmail.com

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