Leading the Waveriders: New players stepping up on the gridiron for Kealakehe

  • Runningback TJ Arakawa is one of a handful of Kealakehe players stepping into big roles in 2021. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • Quarterback Sheynen Nahale is Kealakehe’s only All-BIIF returnee from their 2019 team. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

At first glance, the Kealakehe football team’s roster might look a little thin on experience.

Waveriders’ head coach Wyatt Nahale doesn’t see it that way.

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Though senior quarterback Sheynen Nahale – Wyatt’s son – is the lone All-BIIF returnee from 2019’s 7-4 squad, he’s far from the team’s only leader. Kealakehe’s head coach – now entering his second season at the helm – has seen a handful players make their presence felt in leadership roles already during preseason practices.

“Other players are stepping up and have become leaders as well,” Nahale said. “They’re turning into really good varsity players.”

On offense, a trio of seniors have stepped into those leadership roles. TJ Arakawa and Jacob Mahelona are emerging as top weapons for their quarterback – Arakawa out of the backfield and Mahelona in the slot – while Gasetoto Apisala anchors the offensive line.

“He was a transfer from Samoa who came here,” Nahale said of the 6’3” 300-lb Apisala. “He was really raw and green when he came, but we’ve worked with him to develop; he’s still working and developing, but he’ll probably be one of our forces on the line.”

Don’t be surprised to see the Waverider offense airing the ball out more on offense than in years past. When we last saw Kealakehe on the gridiron, the Waveriders relied on a more run-heavy attack, accumulating more yards on the ground than through the air. During the pandemic, however, Nahale became certified in the Air Raid offense. Made popular by Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, the Air Raid scheme focuses on a heavy dose of passing.

“I always try to push myself to become a better student of the game,” said Nahale on the decision to become Air Raid-certified. “Seeing how the Air Raid has developed, I took it because I wanted to learn, but I also wanted to know what the Air Raid was about if I had to defend it.”

With an increased emphasis on the passing game, juniors Hunter Acia and Ayzen Cummings are likely to see plenty of time on the field at receiver. Sophomore Javiyen Cummings will likely factor in as well, both as a receiver and as the team’s kicker.

Defensively, a number of position battles are taking place, leaving few spots settled in Kealakehe’s 4-3 scheme leading up to Friday’s preseason contest against Kamehameha, though Apisala will likely be a factor in the trenches when the Waveriders are on defense, as well.

“We’re trying to juggle pieces around just to fill,” said Nahale. “The best way I can say it is I think we’re going to play great team defense.”

While his position on defense isn’t set in stone just yet, one player who’s made an early impression is senior Duke Becker, a first-year player.

“Another great athlete,” said Nahale. “He’s turning out to be a great football player.”

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Following Friday’s preseason game, the Waveriders will have a bye the following week, with two weeks to prepare for their BIIF opener against Waiakea. After two years of waiting, Kealakehe’s coach doesn’t mind the extra week before officially getting underway; he’s just glad to finally be back in action.

“We’re so blessed and grateful to be back out here again, just to have this opportunity to see our kids and do what they love to do, embrace them and share the time with them,” said Nahale. “It’s very valuable and special; we’re grateful for that.”

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