WAIMEA — When Kaluka Maiava took the head coaching job at Hawaii Preparatory Academy he took a quick poll of the incoming seniors, asking how many BIIF games they had won during their time with Ka Makani.
The answer: one.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Maiava said. “The dedication and mental toughness to get through that is incredible. Honestly, if I was in their shoes, I might have quit.”
Now at the helm of the storied prep school program, Maiava hopes to change that in a hurry for his seniors and acknowledges that Ka Makani are set up better than ever to do so thanks to the new-look BIIF.
“I took it as a personal challenge to myself to create a program that is solid and simple so we can get some wins for these guys, let them graduate on a good note and set the tone for the younger guys coming up,” Maiava said. “We have a good thing going and I think we are set up for success with the way things are structured in the division.”
Maiava didn’t mince words when asked about his goals for the program.
“Short-term goals is own the BIIF and then win a state championship. That’s what we’re all here for, right?” Maiava said. “No one is here for participation awards. I tell the guys all the time, ‘Pop Warner was cool, but Pop Warner is done.’ There’s winners and losers in this and we are going to work harder than everyone else to come home with that W.”
Sticking with it
HPA has historically utilized one of the smaller rosters on the Big Island, with many key players playing on both sides of the ball. Lately, the program has faced an even steeper uphill battle with numbers waning, but with the BIIF restructuring its divisions after the island’s three eight-man teams (Pahoa, Kohala and Ka‘u) joined the fray, it will be a more level playing field for Ka Makani playing in the league’s five-team Division II.
“I feel like we are going to do well,” senior utility man Jaysen Bragado said. “Everyone has really stepped it up this year and have been focused.”
Bragado and senior two-way lineman Kukila Lincoln are a couple of familiar faces on the field for HPA who have stuck it out through the tough times, playing for four different coaches in four years in Waimea. The duo, along with senior specialist Conor Hunt, were voted as captains by their teammates.
“There’s no giving up when it comes to football,” Bragado said. “But there are people in this school who don’t play any more because of it.”
“It feels like a diss,” Lincoln added, referencing some players who don’t want to suit up anymore. “I think after this year, it’s going to change things. There will be more players who want to come out. Us seniors really want to leave a mark on this program before we go off to college.”
Shoulda, woulda, couldas
Maiava, a Maui native and former Baldwin standout, played his college ball at USC under Pete Carroll. He played alongside Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews in a linebacker corps that is mentioned as one of the most talented in college football history. He went on to be drafted in the fourth round, enjoying a six-year NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders.
However, Maiava is not one to flaunt his NFL resume. Despite looking like he could still wrap up a running back, the humble head coach keeps his background under wraps for the most part — save for a Browns helmet sitting in a locker in HPA’s meeting room.
“It’s nothing to brag about,” Maiava said.
However, that doesn’t mean that Maiava doesn’t pull from his experiences as player to help him as a coach.
“My coaching philosophy was really formed from all my shoulda, woulda, couldas in my career,” he said. “I can’t go back in time and make those choices over again, but this is almost like a second chance. I have an opportunity to help these young guys out with that knowledge.”
Both Bragado and Lincoln mentioned up-tempo the practices Maiava runs, preparing the Ka Makani players for what will be a grind of a season.
“He has everything down to a science,” Lincoln said. “We know he’s been to the next level and the level after that, so we trust in the process.”
While there’s some experience on HPA’s roster, many players are strapping on pads for the first time, which is both a double-edged sword for Maiava and his staff.
“I’m getting them brand new, so there are no bad habits,” Maiava said. “It’s our job to teach them the right way to play and how to get into that competitive mindset.”
Maiava tells his players they don’t have to look far for motivation. Hanging in Castle Gymnasium just around the corner from the practice field are the retired numbers of two former Ka Makani greats who went on to play in college and then the pros in Max Unger and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.
“We are making noise on this island,” Maiava said. “There are a lot of guys making a name for themselves in this league and, just at this school alone when you look at those two guys. Now, we are looking for that next Max Unger and the late Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.”
After stints with the Philadelphia Eages and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL, Te’o-Nesheim returned to coach at HPA for one season before his untimely passing in 2017. Maiava was a friend of Te’o-Nesheim and said it hit him hard when he heard the news.
“With Daniel, it was one of the bigger regrets of my life not joining his staff. I denied him for a silly excuse saying I lived too far from campus,” he said. “Hopefully now I can pay him back.”
HPA’s season gets underway today against Pahoa. The game will be played at Keaau High School with kickoff set for 7 p.m.