Gotta run now: Ka’u football promises to maintain ground-heavy approach

  • Senior lineman Jocyiah Mukini like the run-heavy scheme that Ka'u uses.

PAHALA – When Ka’u High climbed back to the 11-man ranks in 2019, some Trojans players began to ask coach Tammy Ke if the program would start to deviate from the smash-mouth approach that made it so successful in 8-man football.

Might Ka’u start to pass more?


Pass more?

“We’re going to run, it’s just inevitable for us, it’s just something that our kids like,” Ke said. “It’s always been about the running game for us, and the kids know that coming up.

“The ultimate Ka’u mentality.”

Senior lineman Jocyiah Mukini described the mentality like this: “I like to hit the other team. I like the adrenaline. It gets my blood flowing.”

The pandemic robbed Ka’u of enjoying the final season of dynamic game-breaker Izaiah Pilanca-Emmsley, so unless another bell cow develops this season – and Pilanca-Emmsleys don’t grow on trees – the Trojans plan to rely on a stable of runners. Tammy and DuWayne Ke – Tammy was officially the coach heading into the season, and even if she hands over that title soon, she still might be the boss – bestow the utility term on Trojans who have earned trust as all-purpose players who can fill versatile rolls. That even applies to quarterbacks.

“They carry the weight, they have responsibility,” Tammy Ke said.

Cousins Kealiikoa Reyes-Nalu and Adahdiyah Ellis Reyes are central to Ka’u’s plans on offense, though no neither will be eligible to play Saturday against Kohala as they wait to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after getting their second shots. The Trojans pushed last Thursday’s game against Kamehameha into November to have more time to prepare, but they hope they don’t have too much time. The Cowboys had to forfeit last Saturday’s game against Pahoa because of a lack of players.

Ke says Ka’u would have had 40-some players out if this were a normal year without a Department of Education mandate, but as it is the roster stands at 37, about half of whom have experience, either in the BIIF or at the Pop Warner level.

“We have lot of speed and we have a lot of kids who have some type of experience,” she said. “Jonah Beck and Jocyiah are really good examples for our kids. They are not aggressive as people. They are really humble kids, they get good grades and set the tone for the team.”

Beck, a middle linebacker in 2019, is another utility player, and he and fellow senior Kelson Gallano are two of the headliners on defense along with senior safety Keenan Toriano, who has earned a reputation as a ball hawk.

When Ka’u does pass, junior Kaimana Kaupu-Manini will be a receiving threat, and he could try and create a synergy with junior Jycetin Mukini, who is slated to start at quarterback against Kohala.

Mukini, for one, doesn’t plan on just taking the snap from center and either handing off or picking a running lane.

“We’re looking to have a lot of passing,” he said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”

There are three players on the team who attend Volcano School of Arts & Sciences – a charter school that currently serves through the 10th grade: sophomores Ocean Nihipali Sesson, Kalem Libunao-Martinez and Chaz Kajiwara-Ke. They could help out in the back seven defensively or on the other side of the ball.

Shemayah Doi will handle all of the kicking duties.

Chloe Velez and Shyla Bird are among the females on the team who could contribute.

A co-captain, Jocyiah Mukini is well-schooled in the Team Ke way. The husband and wife have two sons on their staff as assistants, Kainalu and Nainoa.

“We make do with what we have,” Mukini said. “I just really wanted to play my senior year, play with my team.

“One team, one family, we always follow that.”


Saturday Kohala 11 a.m.

Nov. 6 at HPA, 2 p.m.

Nov. 11 at Kamehameha, 5 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Honokaa, 11 a.m.

Nov. 27 vs. Pahoa, 11 a.m.

2019: 3-5 BIIF D-II

Head coach: Tammy and DuWayne Ke (ninth season)’


Quotable: “We’re going to run, it’s just inevitable for us, it’s just something that our kids like. It’s always been about the running game for us, and the kids know that growing up.”

— Tammy Ke

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