HANAPEPE – The Waimea Menehunes don’t underestimate the Kaua’i Red Raiders, and the Kaua’i Red Raiders don’t underestimate themselves.
This will be the underlying theme come Friday, when the Red Raiders head to Hanapepe Field to face the Menehunes in the Kaua’i Interscholastic Federation (KIF) regular season opener.
Although the history behind the Red Raider-Menehune dance has been led primarily by Waimea – which garnered its 10th straight KIF title last year with a 6-0 regular season record – neither side is ready to call it a game, or a season.
Waimea head coach Jon Kobayashi said he won’t be taking the 2002 KIF season lightly.
“Coach [Kelii] Morgado has done a good job instilling his style of football in the Red Raider program,” he said before the Menehunes’ 25-0 win over Hilo in the preseason opener.
Morgado agrees a degree of maturity has been reached in the three years he brought his fast-paced passing offense to Kaua’i.
“We have been able to move the ball,” he noted after the Red Raiders played five scrimmages in summer camp on the Big Island. “The guys have become comfortable with their assignments.”
Of course, the Menehunes have history and numbers on their side. Waimea shut out the KIF 189-14 in the 2001 season. No KIF team came close to beating the westsiders in its 6-0 campaign. The win over Castle in their HHSAA State Championship run helped boost student participation in the school’s football program, and the team that had just under 30 players on its roster now has 41.
For the Red Raiders, last year was less than satisfying. Their 1-5 season stemmed from a short roster and a plague of injuries. Although the Red Raiders have returned more experienced and in-tune with Morgado’s offense, their roster still harbors just 29 players and injuries could again threaten their development this season.
The Menehunes also have their question marks.
Waimea lost half of its team to graduation last year and features a more inexperienced roster with a number of ex-jayvee up-and-comers. The Menehunes began their preseason with a shutout of a respectable Hilo program, but ended with a 42-7 loss to Kamehameha, a team many consider to be among the top-three in the State.
“Kamehameha is a very good team,” Kobayashi said one day after the loss. “We learned we have a lot of things we need to work on to compete with the big boys.”
The Red Raiders preseason also had its ups and downs. Despite a successful Big Island summer camp, the Raiders returned bitten once again by the nagging injury bug. Quarterback Kekoa Crowell, and the linebacker/running back duo of Ikaika Valmoja and Weston Victorino were injured early and sat out the Raiders’ 14-7 loss to the Maui Sabres in its only official preseason game. But recently, Morgado said the three weeks of practice before the season opener provided enough time for the Raiders to rehabilitate. If Kaua’i has been able to avoid injuries this week, they should have a healthy team ready at Hanapepe.