KAPAA — The Kauai Interscholastic Federation season is over, and the league champions now await the start of the postseason.
The First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships – Division II tournament begins Friday. Kapaa High School’s varsity football team (7-1 overall, 5-1 KIF) is still hard at work during the layover period until the big tournament starts.
While the team was riding high going undefeated in the last two regular seasons prior to the state competition, the Warriors have a different sense this time after suffering its first loss in the KIF since head coach Philip Rapozo took over in 2014.
However, Kapaa drew the No. 1 seed and a first round bye in the tournament. The Warriors will play on Nov. 12 at Vidinha Stadium against an opponent to be determined.
The tournament seedings and bracket were released Saturday.
Rapozo said going through some tough times may be beneficial for the team rather than a detriment.
“We made our bid. We had every chance,” Rapozo said. “We have every chance to finish and guarantee us a bye, but things happen. Again, we’ll see how we handle adversity if it comes our way. I feel confident. I feel like we’re battle-tested this year. It is what it is. Whatever happens, we just got to be ready.”
Rapozo sat down with The Garden Island during Thursday’s practice at the school, just before he flew to Oahu to meet with the Hawaii High School Athletic Association and the other coaches prior to the tournament.
During practice, Rapozo talked about the regular season, what goes on during those meetings with the HHSAA, and his expectations for the upcoming state tourney as Kapaa will again try to win Kauai’s first high school football state championship.
So, the regular season is over. Actually, your regular season was done two weeks ago. What have you guys been doing since then?
We just went back to the basics and fundamentals. We’re putting our time into that. Right now, we don’t have an opponent lined up for us. We’re still waiting for the seedings and everything. It’s just back to basic football.
When we talked about potentially winning a third consecutive KIF title, you said though it was a goal, the team wasn’t too excited about that. That the main goal was to contend for state title. But now that the team has accomplished that, what can you say about it now?
Well, it feels good to get three under our belt. Again, we’re still hoping to make history and come out as state champions. That’s the goal of this team.
Suffering that first regular season loss, how has the team responded since then?
I think that loss was actually a good thing for us. I don’t think any team can go forever without losing.
We had to dig deep. It’s the first time seeing adversity since the state championship (game last season). Going into the following game, we were a little more focused. Again, hats off to Kauai High. They did a good job. They gave us a game, and they pulled it off.
For you and the team, does that broken streak dampen the season a bit?
Maybe for the fans. Of course, you want to win every game, and you want to win it 100-0. But it’s not realistic. We’re playing in a good league. People got to realize that.
I think sometimes we forget where Kapaa football came from. We sent seasons without winning a game. We have eight championships in 70 years. So, I think we got to appreciate what we got now. We won four of the last six championships, and we won three in a row.
It’s going to happen. You’re going to have bad games. Your going to have bad seasons. We’re never going to be perfect. We got a lot of work ahead of us. That’s why we’re working. But like I said, we got to remember where we came from and where we are now. That’s big for us.
So, you’re going to be on Oahu on Sunday?
Yes, Sunday we have the HHSAA meetings. We’ll find out the seeding and brackets.
You’re flying up the morning of?
I’m flying up (Friday) actually.
So what goes on in these meetings? How does determining seedings work?
It’s all probably figured out already. It’s just going to be official on that day.
The great thing I like about the meetings is I get to sit down and chat with coaches like Cal Lee (Saint Louis School), Vavae Tata (Kahuku) and Rod York (Mililani). The best coaches in the state, we all get together and you get to meet these guys. And every year, there’s usually a new guy coming in, and I was that guy a couple of years ago.
And then you got the Division II guys. Like Garret Tihada (Lahainaluna), he’s been there for a while. Then you got the new guys like me. It’s fun.
Being there a few times now, you feel like you’re a regular now? Or do you still feel like that new guy?
I’m still the new guy. Like I said, you got guys who have been there every year. It’s just another year for them. And that’s what we’re trying to be. We’re trying to be that powerhouse that’s there every year. It’s not easy, you know?
I can imagine being a coach there, it’s almost like a fraternity. When you’re together like that, do you always talk Xs and Os? Or do the coaches talk about other stuff?
I don’t think it ever goes to Xs and Os because it’s a competition too, yeah? I think it’s just about respect. Like you said, it’s a fraternity and they welcome the new guys. And the new guys come in like, “Wow.”
Then all of sudden you realize, “Hey, we’re the same. This guy, he’s just more experienced. But he treats me like one of them.” That’s the awesome thing about the state tournament.
Before you go over there, what are some of your expectations of how the seedings will be this year?
I feel pretty good. I feel confident we can get a bye in the first round. I feel we can be (seeded) one or two. But again, that’s not up to me. But I’m going in there with a positive outlook on everything. I think we’ll be alright.
The last two years, you’ve played in both scenarios — either playing a game in the opening round or getting a bye. Does your plan change depending on what you’ll draw?
I think if history repeats itself, if we don’t get the bye and we play in the first round, we’ll face an (Oahu Interscholastic Federation) team — probably the runner-up. That’s how it’s been.
And we made our bid. We had every chance. We were on top. We have every chance to finish and guarantee us a bye, but things happen. Again, we’ll see how we handle adversity if it comes our way. I feel confident. I feel like we’re battle-tested this year. It is what it is. Whatever happens, we just got to be ready.
I remember last year going undefeated leading up to the championship game, the team was riding high. Is it feeling different this year considering the one loss?
That’s exactly the feeling, and you can see it with the work ethic and the attitudes of the boys. They realized that this is a whole new season now. Whatever happened is done. The struggles we went through, the good we went through, it doesn’t matter already. The main thing is we got the KIF championship, and we’re fortunate to get to compete for a state title.
I think everybody is grounded. I think everybody knows what it’s going to take. Like I said, I think it may be a blessing in disguise. Last year, we were really confident going into it. We’ll see, as the time gets closer, how confident we’ll be.
It may be better not being too confident — fighting for our football lives, as I’ve said before. Like I said, being in those two big games — losing one, and coming back from the other and winning the (KIF) championship — I think that will go a long way in the playoffs.