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Extended road trip: Big Isle high schoolers head to Utah to play football

About a month ago, Sergio Mamone and his family packed up their gear in Panaewa and moved to Utah, so Ricky Mamone could join his former Hilo High teammate Lyle Silva on the Granger High football team.

The Hawaii-to-Utah move for former Konawaena players and brothers Hezekiah “Kiah” Anahu Ambrosio and his younger sibling Zedekiah Anahu-Ambrosio has already paid off. Both were both offered scholarships from BYU.

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Kiah, a junior safety/linebacker, and Zedekiah, a freshman slotback/running back, are playing at Temp View.

Konawaena junior quarterback Garrison Higgins also made the move, and he’s playing at West Lake.

Two promising Hilo sophomores Landon Figueroa, a slotback/cornerback, and Keenan Freeman, a linebacker/running back, also transferred to Granger, where they have a chance to showcase their games on film. Hilo senior lineman Jase Ambrosio is at Highland.

The Department of Education’s deadline for statewide football players to get vaccinated was Sept. 24. But there’s no guarantee a BIIF football season will be played, especially with the rising COVID-19 numbers and an expected wave of the delta variant.

Knowing there’s next to no chance of any college offering a scholarship without game film, the Mamone family (Sergio, his wife Kalei, Rickey, and kindergartener Mickey) made the move, though Sergio travels back and forth to Hilo for his job at the P&R department.

“Lyle called and said Granger needed a quarterback,” Sergio said. “We packed up with no plan and got up here.

“We lost our season-opener on Friday. Rickey started at quarterback and cornerback, and Lyle at running back and safety.

“Lyle has gotten a lot of looks already. Everybody is connected here. He’s getting a lot of phone calls from coaches. Right off the bat, when he moved, he was drawing interest.”

Utah has a much better feeder program to the varsity. There’s a sophomore league, a junior varsity league, and a varsity league.

“Some kids plays Wednesday and Thursday and move up to the varsity on Friday,” Sergio said. “Landon and Keenan are on the JV but play on the varsity. They’re getting so much reps.”

The Granger Lancers lost their season opener to Hunter 35-14 on Friday at home. This Friday, the Lancers play at Taylorsville.

The Lancers run a triple-option, pistol spread offense, a system that fits Ricky’s skill-set. That was the same offense his dad ran when he played Pop Warner ball at Panaewa.

Life is a lot more comfortable with former Waiakea assistant coach Will Tolentino living in Utah and hosing BBQ get-togethers for the Hawaii boys.

“We all get together at Will’s house, once a week,” Sergio said. “His son Toby is a junior center at Farmington, 20 minutes out of Salt Lake. Will coaches there, too.”

When Sergio arrived in Utah, he saw something unexpected.

“As soon as I got here, I went to a volleyball scrimmage,” he said. “There are a lot of Polynesians. It looks like home. Seeing athletes with their parents is something I haven’t seen in two years. I would watch volleyball, tennis. That’s what they’re doing on the mainland. It’s totally different from home.”

Ricky is already making an adjustment to Utah’s weather, which is so different from Hilo.

“It’s nice up here. It’s dry air. I got used to that,” he said. “I ran the triple option when I was young with my dad. They implemented that offense for me. I like the brotherhood up here. I came up here and fit right in.

“It’s good to have the Hawaii boys, Landon and Keenan, up here. Lyle is killing it up here. He’s at a different level. We’re all on a different level. He’s doing great.”

Ricky admits he misses his old Panaewa life, riding horses and traveling five minutes to jump into the ocean, and, of course, all the local grinds.

“We got Spam at Walmart, and my aunty made poke a couple of times,” he said. “We got lakes here. It’s not like home. I miss riding horses and the beaches.

“I’m doing pretty good in school. I’m taking welding classes. We go to the shop every Mondays and Wednesdays to weld.”

The only challenge in moving to Utah was jumping off a cliff.

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“The challenge was getting off the small island, jumping off a cliff,” Sergio said. “Lyle made that choice and we followed. We wouldn’t be here if not for Lyle.

“We’re building Granger from the ground up. Ricky and Lyle picked the worst school, football-wise. But it’s the story of jumping off a cliff. We jumped off and climbing back to the top. We’ll make it to the top at the end of the season.”