KAPAA — The Warriors football squad is in the driver’s seat early in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation season.
“I think our defense has played really well. Our offense, I think they struggled in the last game,” said Kapaa varsity head coach Philip Rapozo during Wednesday’s practice at the school. “I think we played fairly well in the two games before. You know, special teams has been pretty good as usual. That’s our thing — special teams. It’s very important to us. I don’t know. I think we’re starting to feel more like a team. It’s coming together.”
With a current record of 5-0, 3-0 in the regular season, Kapaa is perhaps on the cusp of what Rapozo said the school hasn’t accomplished in more than two decades — winning three KIF championships in a row.
“Eighty-eight, ‘89 and ‘90, I think. Or ‘87, ‘88 and ‘89. Something like that,” Rapozo said of the last time Kapaa has three-peated in the KIF.
Kapaa has won the league crown every year since Rapozo took over the program in 2014.
Though it’s under his watch the school’s football team has had immediate success, Rapozo refuses to take full credit.
“Well, this is my ninth season at Kapaa. It all started when Keli’i Morgado came to Kapaa, and I was part that program. I learned a lot from him,” he said. “It’s weird now talking about it because he’s the athletic director at Kauai High. But hey, it is what it is. That started things rolling. We got one championship when he was here.
“Everything fell into place. I got to hire some really good coaches. I put together a really good coaching staff. That’s what I’ll take credit for — getting the right guys,” Rapozo continued. “I brought in some new guys. I kept a lot of guys from that (previous) staff, some really good guys. No secret, I got to get coach (Mike) Tresler here at Kapaa, and that’s why the defense is the way it is. I think if you give me credit for anything, it’s putting together a good coaching staff.”
And while winning another league title is a goal on the Warriors’ list, it’s not exactly one that they’re clamoring about.
“Our goals are a lot higher than the KIF,” said Warrior senior offensive lineman Mikela Matayoshi. “Last year, we set some pretty high standards. It’s either we meet those standards, or it’s a failed season. … It’s not saying it’s not an accomplishment. It really is an accomplishment. What I want to see progression of us. I don’t really look at the record, as long as we progress.”
One reason being not too jazzed about three-peating, Rapozo said, is because it’s typical of the KIF for one school to win multiple-consecutive league titles at a time.
“I think Waimea put together a string of 11 or 12 in the 80s or 90s, maybe. And then Kauai High went on a string of eight,” Rapozo said. “I think if we’re going to be excited of winning three championships, I don’t know if we can say we’re fooling ourselves. That shouldn’t be our thing. We want to win multiple championships for years to come. That’s the goal of this program right now. So, we cannot get excited about three.”
Another reason perhaps is that the team still has a sour taste from falling short of the ultimate goal — a football state championship, something that no team in the KIF’s history has yet to accomplish.
The Warriors last year earned a berth in the Division II state title game last year, but then lost to Radford of the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
“It was heartbreaking, honestly. But I knew we had to come back the next year because it’s my last year, my senior year. We just have to work harder than we did last year,” said Warrior senior defensive lineman Ikona Fernandez.
He added: “State championship. That’s what I really want. I want to do it for this community, my teammates and for the island of Kauai.”
So while the Warriors have their eyes set on the grand prize, they still cannot look so far ahead that everything can slip through their fingers. It’s that in mind, Rapozo said, serves as motivation rather than distraction.
“The only thing that’s scary is when you’re dominant. You got to keep everybody, including the coaches, we got to make sure we got to come in and work every day. We’ll fall asleep today and we’ll cruise — no you cannot because those other two teams are hungry,” the coach said. “They’re well-coached. They got some good athletes, like we do. Once we think that way, then we’ll fall. That’s the hardest thing about being successful — staying on top. Like I always say, ‘It’s harder to stay on top than to get on top.’”
“Like I said, I’m lucky. We have a good coaching staff, and everybody is still hungry. We’re chasing what we haven’t gotten yet, or anybody in the KIF for that matter. That motivates us. We just got to be on each other.”