Samson Thomas called the onslaught an eye-opener.
Justin Nakamoto-Baltazar saw it as the ultimate learning experience.
Murphy’s law was somewhat at play, according to Waylon Spain, who chalked Waiakea’s ball-security issues up to one of those days where everything goes horribly awry.
Ambrose Robinson said, yes, the Warriors ran into a powerhouse, but, “I think a lot of us went in there already defeated.”
Most of all, the football team’s senior captains want you to know this: The Warriors are moving forward, their spirits are high and they’re buckling down and coming back harder the next time.
“This is what I love, that’s why I’m here,” Nakamoto-Baltazar, the senior quarterback who absorbed the brunt of the punishment Saturday in a 104-0 loss to Hilo, said Wednesday. “Competition is everything I love about football, so I’m definitely going to keep going.”
Coming off the worst loss in BIIF history, a stunner that tied a 97-year-old Hawaii high school record and had administrators altering the mercy rule midseason, the Warriors aren’t circling the drain, they’re circling the wagon.
“We’ve bottomed out, the worst loss in the nation, and everybody thinks we’re junk,” coach Neil Azevedo said. “But now we can make one of the biggest comebacks. They are coming out to play with more force, our manpower went up.”
Azevedo is ever the optimist, but the smile on his face Monday was as genuine as ever. He worried over the weekend that only a small contingent of players would should show up to practice to begin the week. Instead, the opposite occurred – more bodies came out. Waiakea was 43 players strong, the highest its roster has been all season.
“The energy is good (in practice), better than before,” said Thomas, a receiver/defensive back. “We realized we need to depend on each other more than anything.”
With Azevedo’s blessing, the team held a players’ only meeting after the loss to hash a few issues out.
“Everybody said what was on their mind,” said Spain, a linebacker.
“We talked about how our mindset has to change and we have to be more physical,” said Robinson, a lineman. “We talked about how we’re stronger when we play together and as long as we do our job, there is no need to be nervous.”
Azevedo likes to say he’d take 100 players just like Thomas or Nakamoto-Baltazar and go take on any team.
In lieu of that, Kalai Rosario has been a welcome site at practice recently. The senior all-BIIF defensive end, a potential future major league draft pick, started practicing before the Vikings’ game, and though he won’t be eligible for the Warriors (0-3 BIIF Division I, 0-4 overall) in Friday night’s game at Konawaena (3-0, 3-1), his eventual presence should give Waiakea one of the best athletes on the field no matter the opponent.
“It’s a boost in morale (to have Rosario), big-time,” Azevedo said.
After slew of players suffered injuries Aug. 31 in a loss to Keauu, Waiakea was down to 17 players, but Azevedo is hopeful he’ll have more than twice that many in uniform against the Wildcats. As more players become eligible, he thinks the team’s numbers will dip into the low to mid 40s, depending on academic eligibility.
“Given the loss that we had and to see people coming out, that shows a lot of pride in our school,” Nakamoto-Baltazar said.
Waiakea’s last BIIF title dates back to 2001, and to help the Warriors’ players reconnect with their past, Azevedo had Kamalu Keawe, a standout free safety on that league champion, address the team in practice Wednesday.
“He was mad about the score and said it’s unacceptable for players your size to lose like that,” said Azevedo, Keawe’s former defensive coordinator.
“He told us we weren’t hungry enough (against Hilo), and that’s kind of true,” Thomas said.
To confront the fumblitis that helped transform a garden variety Hilo romp into a blowout of epic proportions, Waiakea was happy to practice in the rain and on grass Wednesday, down the hill from its turf field. Of its remaining seven games, four come on grass fields.
Konawaena doesn’t figure to take Waiakea lightly.
Wildcats coach Brad Uemoto was disappointed in his team’s effort in a 36-0 win at Keaau, and Konawaena vowed to have a stronger week of practice ahead of facing the Warriors. Getting the Wildcats to play to their level has been one of Uemoto’s objectives of late, especially with Hilo looming on the schedule Sept. 20.
“We’re forgetting about the losses,” Thomas said. “We’re going to focus on our next two games and come back in the second round (of the season) even harder.”
Kohala (1-1, 1-2) at Ka’u (0-2), 11 a.m.
The Cowboys will have three more defenders to throw at Trojans’ standout running back Izaiah Pilanca-Emmsley in this matchup of former eight-man teams.
Kohala cruised past Pahoa last week but is likely to face more resistance against Ka’u, which opened with losses to Kamehameha and HPA.
Kamehameha (2-0 BIIF Division II, 3-2) at Hawaii Prep (3-0), 3 p.m.
The Division II holdovers meet in the game of the year, part 1.
Ka Makani have been one of the feel-good stories this season, but they’ll likely need to make a progression on offense to reach 4-0.
Trips to Waimea are usually ever-eventful for the Warriors, but they’ve won two in a row at HPA, including a 55-13 win last season. Kamehameha comes in off a 16-day break.
Honokaa (1-2, 1-3) at Hilo (3-0, 4-0), 7:30 p.m.
Simply put, this one has the potential to get ugly in a hurry.
The Dragons opened with a win at Waiakea but haven’t scored since.
Establishing a running threat and churning the clock will be imperative for the Dragons to keep the Vikings’ high-octane offense off the field.