WAIMEA — There’s a feeling with the Menehune that if there’s a time the program is going to turn the corner, this will be the season that it will happen.
“I think the fans and the people around the community, they have large expectations for them. And I think they have large expectations for themselves,” said head coach Jason Caldeira during Friday’s practice. “Why not now, yeah? Why not try to turn it around now? I think we got a good core of boys, and I think we can definitely start bringing back some pride.”
Waimea High School’s varsity football team’s 2016 season opener is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Vidinha Stadium versus Waiakea of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
“We told the kids from the beginning of the season, ‘We’re not one of the biggest teams or one of the biggest schools. What we have is what we have,’” Caldeira said. “Throughout history, Waimea has never been known for their size, or anything like that. So, we expect to outwork them.”
The Menehune started off promising last year. The team won two of its three preseason contests — a 13-0 win over Oahu’s Kaimuki in the 2015 opener, and a 27-14 victory over Waiakea the following week.
Waimea then was victorious in its Kauai Interscholastic Federation regular season opener, defeating Kauai High, 17-0. But the the Menehune slid following that KIF opener, losing the next five contests and ending their season with a 3-6 overall record.
“It was a learning process for all of us — the coaches and the players,” Caldeira said. “We just had to do things better, work harder, and just take care of the little things. I don’t think we took care of the little things enough last year. So, that was one of our big focuses from day one this year.”
While youth was a factor last season — the team fielded several underclassmen — it shouldn’t be this year as most, if not all, of the Menehune varsity players are seniors and juniors.
“It’s a big difference mentality-wise. There’s no more pre-game jitters with the seniors. It’s good,” Caldeira said. “Last year, we had a problem with leadership. We were asking young guys to be leaders. It takes a while to learn how to be a leader. So this year, it’s been a blessing to have these guys (with) a year under their belt and knowing what to expect.”
Waimea senior Cody Taniguchi said the objective for this upcoming season is clear-cut — KIF championship. For that to happen, he said the Menehune will have to simply work harder than everyone else.
“This is mostly our junior class from last year. We’ll be seniors this year. This is a tight team. More tight than last year for sure,” Taniguchi said. “This thing should work. Hopefully, things go our way.”
Of the Menehune who could be standouts, Caldeira mentioned several third- and second-year varsity members whom he expects to have an impactful season.
“We got Cody Taniguchi, a third-year player. He’s a safety and a running back. We got Waika Corr, another third-year player. He’s a middle linebacker and offensive guard,” he said. “We got Avery Miguel. He’s a second-year player, a junior. He’s really growing in the program. I think he’s going to have a good season. We’ve got a handful of them.”
Caldeira also credited his assistant coaches for their efforts.
“They work really hard. This is the best staff I’ve had,” the head coach said. “Their commitment and effort has been unbelievable. Hopefully, that reflects on the kids.”
Menehune senior Ardino Ned will get the nod at starting quarterback Saturday against the Waiakea Warriors.
“All these boys, we’ve been a brotherhood since my Pop Warner days,” Ned said. “I know them. I know they got my back, and I got theirs.”
Caldeira said sophomore Lacin Montemayor, who right now is the starting quarterback with the junior varsity team, will also get some time with the varsity during the preseason and will get a “fair shot” to challenge for the varsity starting role.
For now though, Caldeira said Ned earned the starting job, not just because of his ability on the field, but also because of what he’s done off the field to prove to the Menehune coach he’s worthy of it.
“Ardino did a lot of changing with his life. Last season, he had no direction,” Calderia said. “We couldn’t depend on him. At the end of last season, he was told that if he’s to come back, these are the things that needed to be changed. He took the steps to do that. His attendance has been outstanding — 100 percent. He’s passing school. He’s no longer an academic ineligible. He takes it upon himself to work hard off the field. He’s trying to be a leader. We’re really impressed with the things he’s doing with his personal life. That makes me believe he’s the right choice for us right now.”
Ned, too, admitted his own faults from last season. With this opportunity Caldeira gave him, he feels he must “prove him right.”
“I’ve been waiting for this year. I never started at QB last year because I was on (academic) probation. But I’m confident. I’m ready,” Ned said. “He gave the chance to lead the offense. I just got to keep working.”
This story is the second 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.