‘Starting all over again’: Pahoa in football rebuild mode again, but that’s becoming a comfort zone

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Pahoa junior Kailen Kamakeeaina runs through his teammates Friday during a drill in practice.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Pahoa junior Christopher-Jay Alidon-Kaawaloa – who will be counted on at running back – tries to take on two players at practice.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald An assistant coach runs drills Friday during Pahoa's football practice.

PAHOA – During an overcast afternoon football practice at Pahoa High, it almost looks like business as usual: whistles blow, assistants teach and pads pop.

From the sideline, even the field, lines painted and all, appears ready to go.

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“No,” coach Chris Midel said. “Might look all right, but it’s too soft.”

And even if other appearances turn out to be deceiving, Midel, the second-longest tenured BIIF coach, is working from a familiar spot.

Pahoa, with just three seniors and a core of junior players who gained seasoning as freshman on a winless 2019 team, is “starting all over again,” Midel said. That’s certainly never stopped the Daggers from trying before.

Not when he restarted the program in 2014 and watched Pahoa take its lumps in eight-man, nor when it made the jump to 11-man two years ago and took more.

“Experience is going to be an issue,” he said, “but I’m just glad we have a team and I’m happy for the kids.

“We want to compete and improve, those are pluses for us.”

Considering its pedigree and its perpetual rebuilding status, what program could be better adept at bouncing back from the adversity of a pandemic?

“Life has been rough all around the world, but I feel like a lot players out here wanted to get back out and play sports,” said senior captain Manuel Oros, a middle linebacker. “A lot of these kids got bored, and it’s been rough, some had family members die. But they want to get outside, they want to do something and this was the way to do it.’’

Midel was hoping to have 30 players this season, and he had more than that practicing in early August when the Department of Education shut everything down and mandated players and staff get vaccinated against COVID-19, or gain an exemption.

Midel and his staff called parents to explain the situation while respecting their decisions, and each staff member took a handful of players to keep in contact with to make sure they were keeping up with their grades.

“Some parents were fully against (vaccinations),” Midel said, and one reacted badly to the first dose and didn’t get the second dose. Pahoa has picked up a few players since practices resumed Sept. 27, and the roster lists 30 as the Daggers prepare for their Division II opener Saturday against Hawaii Prep in Waimea. Pahoa will play exclusively on the road because of its field.

Midel said two players received an exemption to the vaccine mandate and will be required to submit two negative tests a week to continue to practice and play.

“It’s been a tough fight, but we’re back and we’re ready,” Oros said of the past couple of years.

Whether Pahoa favors the run or the pass remains to be seen – “whatever works,” Midel said – but junior Moses Oros will be the quarterback. Oros is one of the players who saw the field in 2019 on an 0-8 team, though not at quarterback. Oros played under Midel with the now-defunct Puna Panthers in Pop Warner.

His big brother provided a scouting report.

“He’s a dual-threat quarterback,” Manuel Oros said, “run or pass. If he sees a pocket that he has to go in, he’ll run it. If he sees a pocket that he can step in and throw, he’ll do that.”

Even on their most undersized teams over the years, the Daggers usually boast at least one lineman with bulk, and junior center Joerome Broad-Melander, at 5-foot-9, 340 pounds, fits the bill.

Junior Christopher-Jay Alidon-Kaawaloa, 5-7, 204, is a name to watch at running back, and he’ll be one of several Daggers to play both ways. He’s on a linebacking unit that includes the 5-9, 240 Manuel Oros, who also will play left tackle. Senior Kala’i Midel, 5-6, 200 and the coach’s son, will chip in at linebacker and get carries on offense.

Leonard Fuerte is the defensive coordinator, and he’s also the president of the Puna Rebels and will try to provide a bridge to the future with a feeder system through Pop Warner.

The receiving threats include junior slot Daniel Vital-Rezania, also a safety, and sophomore Donivan Lynch. Junior Noah Kaawaloa is one player on the roster who has a BIIF touchdown to his credit, scoring as a freshman on a reception during a 56-50 loss to Ka’u.

It’s a start.

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“I feel like this year’s team may be different,” Manuel Oros said, “but a lot of players have heart and they want to win. They want to make a name for themselves.

“I feel very confident in myself, and in this team. We’re putting in the work and come first game we’ll see how it goes.”

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