KAPAA — The Warriors enjoyed much success last year.
Their 2015 season included a 9-1 overall record, going unbeaten in the regular season en route to winning a second-consecutive Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship, and a berth in the Division II state championship game.
While all those accomplishments are lauded, that’s in the past — and that is where the Warriors cannot dwell.
“What we did last year, that’s done. It’s over. That’s just history for us,” said head coach Philip Rapozo during Tuesday’s practice at Kapaa High School. “If we live on that, then we won’t have a good season this year. That’s what I’ve been telling the boys. And all the coaches have been, ‘Hey, it ain’t free. Just because we were there last year, it doesn’t mean we’ll get the ticket back. It’s going to be harder now.’”
Kapaa High School’s varsity football team will begin its 2016 season this weekend. The Warriors will take on the Sabers of Maui High School at 7 p.m. Saturday at Vidinha Stadium to kick off the preseason.
“Maui, I expect them to be physical and bigger — much like Radford last year in the state championship,” Rapozo said. “That’s why I think this is a good game for us. … They’re a Division I team. They’re bigger than us. I think it’s going to be a good experience.”
Rapozo said as many as eight sophomores could be starters. That youth, along with that the other two teams in the KIF have gotten more experienced, is why he said this regular season will be competitive.
“Our league, again, it’s a tough league. Everybody thinks three teams, it’s easy. It ain’t easy,” he said. “I expect to have some fights this year against Kauai High and Waimea.”
One of the strengths for the Warriors this year will be the offensive line, which Rapozo said may be the best he has seen as head coach.
“We got five solid guys starting, and we got about three other guys that can start, too,” Rapozo said. “They’re still battling. That’s the good thing about having that much talent at the position.”
Senior offensive lineman Morris Unutoa Jr. said he and his teammates are eager to start the season.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a while. We’re going up against a D1 team. So, it’s going to be exciting,” Unutoa Jr. said. “Camp’s been really good. It brought our team closer together — bringing our chemistry up and bringing us together as a brotherhood. And just been working on getting better every day.”
Warriors senior Kurt Napoleon, last season’s KIF Offensive Player of the Year, will return as starting quarterback.
“We feel confident with Kurt. It’s his to keep, and I think he can do the job,” Rapozo said. “I think Kurt can take us back, first of all to win the KIF championship, and then take us back to the state championship. I feel good about our chances with Kurt as our quarterback.”
Rapozo added people should look out for versatile playmakers, senior running back Leighton Moniz and senior receivers Makena Tabura and Gabe Keener, on offense.
The Warriors defense didn’t allow a single score in last year’s KIF season. Despite being younger and losing key seniors from last year, Rapozo expects the defense to be just as formidable.
“We got (senior defensive lineman) Kapena Texeira, who’s a beast. He’s someone to reckon with. We got (senior linebacker) Mana Kupihea, who’s proven his play throughout the playoffs and the league the last two years,” Rapozo said. “We got a whole bunch of guys who can make things happen.”
Kupihea, too, said the same sentiments about the defense.
“I believe in this D. We buy into our coaches. To me, I think we have the best coaching staff in the state,” Kupihea said. “With them, we can do anything.”
He added he hopes to make his senior season worthwhile.
“I’m pretty anxious. I couldn’t wait for this moment — my senior year,” Kupihea said. “Many of these other players, too, we’ve been playing with each other for a while. We’re all ready to get it done.”
This story is the first of a three-part KIF football season preview series featuring Kauai, Kapaa and Waimea High Schools. Nick Celario, sports reporter, can be reached at email@example.com.