WAIMEA – Ka Makani had turned the corner.
After winning just one BIIF game in three years, the Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s football team had a breakout season in 2019, its first under new head coach Kaluka Maiava. Ka Makani posted their first winning record since 2013, going 6-3.
“This team got a taste of success,” said Maiava.
Then the pandemic hit.
While COVID may have shut down the 2020 season, it didn’t stop HPA’s leaders from putting in work on their own. Ka Makani return four All-BIIF selections from that 2019 team – seniors Tain Lawson, Kamuela Gaughen, Braeden Samura and junior Jakob Honda – eager to prove they’re ready to pick up where they left off two years ago.
“Ever since we got shut down, they didn’t press on the brakes,” Maiava said. “They’ve been in here working out, lifting, out on the field on their own, doing a bunch of extra stuff. They’re hungry.”
Expect all four to make their impact known on both sides of the ball in 2021. Gaughen and Samura will be anchors in the trenches, while Honda and Lawson lead a promising group of playmakers.
“You never have to doubt them,” said Maiava of his core group of leaders. “They’re great teammates and guys feed off of them.”
At quarterback, senior Tre Walker and freshman Luke Hendricks are locked in a battle for the starting job. Whoever earns the nod under center will have no shortage of weapons surrounding him in a pass-first attack.
Seniors Ben Kubo, Jordan Hanano and Kolu Kainoa will all be in line for playing time in HPA’s spread offense scheme. Also fighting for touches is freshman Alakai Aipia, who has already earned a lofty comparison from his head coach, who said Aipia reminds him of a former University of Hawaii star.
“I call him Chad Owens 2.0; he’s pretty smooth when he’s got the ball in his hands,” Maiava said. “I’m really excited to see him. He’s quick.”
While HPA hasn’t experienced a drop in numbers due to COVID – Maiava expects to dress 32 for Saturday;s Division II season opener at home against Pahoa – many players will see the field on offense and defense, as is typical for Ka Makani. Lawson, Hanano, Samura and Aipia are also likely to handle kick and punt returns, as well.
“They rotate, like musical chairs,” Maiava said. “We’re going to involve them and get the ball in their hands somehow, some way.”
Taking over kicking duties will be senior Mason Hunt, the younger brother of former HPA standout Conor Hunt, who now kicks for Georgetown University.
On defense, expect to see a bunch of looks with athletes playing various different positions from week to week. Maiava – a former linebacker in college at USC and in the NFL for Cleveland and Oakland – preaches versatility to his defensive unit, shifting to whatever the opposing offense’s scheme presents in any given week.
“We adjust with the wind; we go with the flow,” Maiava said. “Some weeks you’ll see four D-linemen, some weeks five, some weeks three, just depending on the players we have available and the teams we’re playing against. We don’t have a set scheme; guys are everywhere.”
Regardless of who lines up where, this year’s HPA squad enters the season with the highest expectations in years. Have Ka Makani closed the gap on Kamehameha, the two-time reigning champions in BIIF’s Division II? Only time will tell. If you listen to Maiava, though, one thing is for certain.
“Get ready for an exciting, explosive season.”