WAIMEA — “Nothing changes if nothing changes. What you put out is what you get back.”
That is the Menehune mantra this year.
After a few tough years, Waimea High School’s varsity football team aims to turn the program around and get it back to its winning ways as it looks forward to the Kauai Interscholastic Federation season.
“From spring to now, I would say (there’s a) big turnaround. Morale is high,” said first-year varsity head coach Jason Caldeira. “They’ve been coming off bad season after bad season … There were (kids) on Day 1 that were on this already. They were waiting for a change.”
Caldeira returns to Waimea after a two-year hiatus. Six years prior, he coached the school’s junior varsity squad.
“After a while, especially with those two years off, I knew if I went back to (coaching) high school, this is where I wanted to be,” he said. “I know I’m not here by luck. I know that going throughout my journey in life, going through the ups and downs, it’s set me up for a position like this.
“It’s something that’s in my heart. I bleed blue. I love coaching. I love football. In my head, there’s no better position. If I’m going to coach on this island, why not coach for the school that I love, the team that I love,” Caldeira added.
Caldeira said he and his staff aimed to change the culture of the team since the beginning and they’ve already seen the fruits of their labor.
“To see them improve, grow up and mature is very cool. It’s very cool to see that change in them. I see a big difference,” he said. “Now you can see them accepting criticism a lot better. They’re more mature about it. They’re eager to learn.”
Among the team’s seniors is running back and defensive back Keenan Kaluahine-Arroyo. He’s returned to Kauai after spending his junior year at Oahu Interscholastic Association school Kaiser.
Kaiser won the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II football title last year, defeating Kauai High School in the championship game.
“We’re working hard and everyone is sticking together,” Kaluahine-Arroyo said. “We’re going to come out and fight in every game.”
For senior Patrick Keamoai-Strickland, this year will be his first as the starting quarterback. He’s previously played linebacker and tight end.
“At the beginning of this year, my coaches asked me if I could throw. Since I was a pitcher (in the baseball team), they tried me out,” Keamoai-Strickland said. “I’ve been taking it pretty seriously. I’m trying my best to be a leader out there.”
The Menehune quarterback added he’s had it in mind that it’s his last year and intends to do everything he can to get wins for the school.
“I think I’m doing pretty good right now. We’ll see how I do,” he said.
Senior offensive tackle Drake Kaohelaulii said practices have been positive and looks forward to this weekend after waiting an extra week to play.
“We (will) see how well we actually work as a team and see how our line can do,” Kaohelaulii said. “We feel pretty good right now … We expect to do a lot better than last year.”
Waimea will play its only non-league game against Big Island’s Hawaii Preparatory Academy at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hanapepe Stadium. HPA is No. 9 in scoringlive.com’s HHSAA Division II preseason rankings.
“They played us a couple of times when I was junior varsity coach, so I’ve got to watch them play. They’re a tough team. They’re not pushovers at all,” Caldeira said about the team’s upcoming opponent. “HPA is going to be a good test. I think if we can be competitive with them, then we’re going to set ourselves up to be very competitive in the KIF.
“I honestly believe by the end of this year, we’re going to do a 180 (turnaround). I cannot promise wins and losses. But in attitude and just being competitive, we’re going to do a complete 180 from the year before,” he added.