PAHALA – Ka’u is all in on the jump back to 11-man football, but it will take all hands on deck from the former first family of BIIF eight-man to get there.
On one end of Pahala Ball Park last week, assistant Nainoa Ke works with the offensive line. On the far side, assistant Kainalu Ke mentors the defense.
But neither of those groups were the one DuWayne Ke and Tammy Mareko-Ke were paying attention to during an afternoon practice.
The husband-and-wife coaching duo – DuWayne is the coach but Tammy speaks like a general manager – were focused on a group of skill players working by themselves in the middle of the field.
“Do you know how good these boys are?” DuWayne Ke asked. “There is no coach over there, but they’re running their drills, no coach there.”
He smiles again a little while later when one player takes another to task for using foul language, eliciting an apology.
“Who runs it is the captains,” said DuWayne Ke, who also has a third son, Talai, assist him.
One of those captains can’t help but stand above all the rest.
Junior Izaiah Pilanca-Emmsley might as well be an assistant coach. He does everything else, and there’s no more interesting story line involving the three teams leaping to 11-man than how Pilanca-Emmsley will adjust to BIIF Division II football.
Or maybe the question is how will BIIF D-II football adjust to Pilanca-Emmsley?
“Harder to score, harder to find holes,” he said of a transition that has him excited. “It’s always a good time to move up. More challenging and we get to play different teams.”
The offensive and defensive player of the year last season, Pilanca-Emmsley was unquestionably the best player in the five years of BIIF eight-man, but that may be undervaluing him.
According to the database at MaxPreps.com, Pilanca-Emmsley was the national 8-man rushing leader at 293.3 yards per game, and his virtuoso performance came during a seven-touchdown onslaught against Lanai. Or maybe it came in 400-yard, four-touchdown performance against Pahoa in the title game.
When in doubt, Ka’u snapped the ball to Pilanca-Emmsley and let his speed and elusiveness take over.
“When everything fails, Bobby is right there as the Trojan Horse,” Tammy Ke said. “A lot of people know Bobby, and he probably has the biggest target on him, but I don’t see that being a problem. He has the talent, it doesn’t matter what type of football we’re playing: eight, six, 12 whatever. Bobby has the talent for whatever football we’re playing. Just who he is.”
The Trojans were the eight-man pioneers on the island in 2013, and they perfected a run-heavy offense to carve out a dynasty, winning four titles, including the past three. In many ways, however, they’re along for the ride up to 11-man. Pahoa forced the Trojans’ hand when it declared in January that it was moving up.
With nearly 40 players – 19 of them freshman with 12 returnees – Ka’u is out of its comfort zone but “110% up to the challenge,” Tammy Ke said.
“Everybody in the town is like, ‘Oh, this is 11-man, you guys are going to get creamed,’ but we’re trying to keep the boys on the positive,” she said. “We’ve never played Kamehameha, this is going to be our first time, and this is going to be their first time playing us. What makes you think they can try to run over us right away?”
In fact, Ka’u intends to try to run others over. The Trojans don’t intend to stray far from their running game, whether they’re taking on former eight-man teams Pahoa and Kohala or D-II mainstays Kamehameha and Hawaii Prep.
Pilanca-Emmsley, Luke Watson, Kealiikoa Reyes-Nalu and Loea Kaupu are among the group of all-purpose utility players that will carry the ball. Ka’u could line up with four-man backfields this season and pound away.
And to think, Watson worried if he’d get enough carries when he transferred from Texas before the 2018 season.
“Then I talked to coach, and this was the team for me,” Watson said. “They just run the ball all day.”
The team is somewhat defined by all of its freshmen, but Tammy Ke said the bunch showed up to practice in mid-July with an ample amount of seasoning thanks to Pop Warner play.
“They bring choke athleticism to the team,” defensive end Mana Beck-Chong said.
Senior Jeremiah Decalio will help anchor the offensive line along with Josiah Mukini, Kaikea Kaupu-Manini and Jaisen Garcia, Weston Davis could play tight end, and Kainalu Satkofsky figures to be one of Ka’u’s biggest receiving threats.
When Davis found out the program was moving to 11-man, “I was proud,” he said, “because coming from a small town, we want to show these guys what we can do.
“We’re going to get there. I think they are going to take us lightly.”
He’ll play end along with Beck-Chong on a defense that DuWayne Ke thinks will have some surprises in store this season. Isaih Hashimoto and Kaleo Mello are the tackles in front of Jonah Beck at linebacker.
Emman Badua is in the mix at safety, and with Pilanca-Emmsley and Kyson Toriano at cornerback, this has the potential to be a ball-hawking secondary, though the Trojans haven’t seen many receiving corps of late like the one at Kamehameha, which travels to face Ka’u on Aug. 24 in the regular-season opener.
“I have faith in my players,” Beck-Chong said. “We just have to push hard and be aggressive.
“I’m excited about my defense, we push as a family out there. It feels like family no matter what.”
Ka’u, by and large, carries a don’t count-us-out mentality, but it’s only natural for seniors such as Decalio and Watson to strive to finish on top.
“My goal is a championship,” Watson said, “and I think the rest of the team will help get me there, but everyone’s mindset has to be in the right place.”
For those who underestimate the Trojans this season, Decalio said this: “Good luck.”
Aug. 24 vs. Kamehameha 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Hawaii Prep 2 p.m.
Sept. 14 vs. Kohala 11 a.m.
Sept. 19 at Pahoa 6 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Kamehameha 6 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Hawaii Prep 1 p.m.
Oct. 19 vs. Pahoa 11 a.m.
Oct. 26 at Kohala 1 p.m.
At a glance
Last season: 6-0, fourth BIIF eight-man title in five seasons
Coach: DuWayne Ke (seventh year)
Number to know: 19 – freshmen on a roster of roughly 40 players
Quotable: “When everything fails, Bobby is right there as the Trojan Horse.”
– assistant Tammy Mareko-Ke on Izaiah Pilanca-Emmsley