BIIF football preview: Honokaa has heart set on running

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island Honokaa’s Kalaijah Salazar looks for running room Saturday during the Dragons' 21-0 loss to Waimea on Kauai.

A decade ago when he was coaching at Honokaa, Fred Lau looked for creative ways to conquer teams that were bigger and stronger.

His quarterback was running RPOs (run-pass options) at the time, and the Dragons won the BIIF championships in 2009, the school’s lone BIIF title in football.

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After last coaching at Waiakea in 2012, Lau is back at Honokaa for a second tour, and he’s still throwing curveballs when opponents expect fastballs.

The Dragons (1-6 last year in Division II) will run the flexbone, Navy’s triple-option ground attack that forces the defense to play assignment football and levels the playing field.

The flexbone gives the quarterback the option to run, pitch the ball or pass. If a defender gets in the wrong gap, and the QB makes the right read that’s usually leads to a long gain.

The offense is also a ball-control method, maybe the best way to beat the teams with aerial attacks like Hilo and Konawaena. Honokaa’s best hope is to dominate ball-possession and don’t beat itself with turnovers.

“We’re planning to do a running game, a run-type offense,” Lau said. “We have the type of athletes who are good options. We want to have a ball-control type of game and keep the big hitters off the field as much as possible.”

Kaialii Nakamoto (5-5, 150), a junior promoted from the junior varsity, will start at quarterback and offers the skill-set needed to make the offense click.

“He’s durable, smart and quick,” Lau said.

Richard Reinbolt (6-0, 220) will be the lone back, the solid runner who keeps the defensive line on its toes.

Kalaijah Salazar (5-5, 150) and Diesel Martinez (5-6, 170) will be the slotbacks, the pitch running options and pass catchers. They both bring versatility to the attack.

“They’re smaller but they’re quick,” Lau said. “Salazar is a fast runner. He really reads well and has raw speed.”

Kaneala Hiilei (6-0, 225), a senior left tackle, is the only returning starter on the offensive line, which values mobility over size in the flexbone.

“He holds his blocks well, lowers his pad level well and is aggressive,” Lau said. “He’s very coachable and soaks up things like a sponge. He takes whatever we teach him.”

Isaiah Fatu (6-2, 250) will start at left guard, Kayleb Ishii Manalo (5-8, 205) at center, Gabriel Cabreros Garcia (5-9, 220) at right guard, and Kamalu Thomas (5-10, 220), described as the fastest O-lineman, at right tackle.

Hiilei has emerged as a leader for the offense.

“He leads by example and is vocal,” Lau said. “His teammates just follow him.”

A decade ago, the BIIF was primarily a run-based league. Stopping the ground game was usually a key for victory. Now, the powerhouses like Hilo and Konawaena air out the ball like ILH and OIA teams.

Lau is running a 3-3-5 defense in hopes of getting pressure in the back field and an extra defender to protect the secondary.

He’s counting on senior tackles Chandon Pacheco (6-0, 250) and Aloalii Aiona to pressure the pocket and plug running lanes.

“Chandon is a solid run stopper and has speed and energy to get to the quarterback,” Lau said. “Aloalii is an active speed rusher.”

Matthew Akau (5-7, 210), a junior, will start at noseguard. His job is to congest the middle and disrupt plays at the point of attack.

Trey Gomes (6-0, 170) will start at linebacker. Lau highlighted the senior for his nose-to-the-ball skills.

“Our mainstay on defense is Trey. He’s very knowledgeable and reads plays well,” Lau said. “He’s a good crisp tackler. He holds his ground well and cover his area well on passes.”

Antone Cootey (6-0, 175) is another senior linebacker to watch for. Lau likes that he’s got another savvy defender, who can sniff out plays.

“He’s a hard-nosed smart kid,” Lau said. “He did college courses over the summer. He’s knowledgeable to all types of offenses. He’s just a smart player.”

Kaiah Badon (5-7, 150) is a junior who’ll lead the secondary.

“He’s one of our returning DBs,” Lau said. “He’s quick to the ball and has a lot of recovery speed.”

Lucky Ahuna is another returning player in the secondary. Lau sees a lot of potential in what he calls the team’s best athlete.

“He’s a raw talent,” Lau said. “He’s a good basketball player, and he’s probably our best athlete on the team.”

There are a lot of technical fine-tuning left (blocking the right defenders, making smart decisions, like pitching or running the ball) for the Dragons. But Lau likes the steps his team has taken.

“We’ve got a good core of kids,” he said. “We’re progressing on a daily and weekly basis. Our offense is picking it up, all their progressions. The defense is learning their alignments and assignments, where to be on the field.”

Interestingly enough, Lau is most looking forward to the matchup against Hilo, the six-time defending BIIF champion on Sept. 14.

“Division I will be tough,” Lau said. “It’s all about who puts it together first and correctly. Everything leads to Hilo. Hilo is going to be our measuring stick.”

At a glance

Last season

1-6 BIIF Division II, 2-6 overall

Coach

Fred Lau (first season)

Number to know

1: BIIF Division I championships Lau already has won at Honokaa. He won one in 2009, during his first stint at the school

Quotable

“We’re planning to do a running game, a run-type offense. We have the type of athletes who are good options. We want to have a ball-control type of game and keep the big hitters off the field as much as possible.”

• Lau

Schedule

Nonleague

Waimea 21, Honokaa 0

BIIF Division I regular season schedule

Aug. 24 at Waiakea 1:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. Konawaena 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 6 vs. Kealakehe 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 at Hilo 7:30 p.m.

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

Sept. 27 vs. Waiakea 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 vs. Hilo 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 10 at Kealakehe 7:30 p.m.

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Oct. 19 at Konawaena 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 24 vs. Keaau 7:30 p.m.

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