We all heard they were coming.
A bunch of new Kahuku players were talked about by coaches to reporters and by fans on social media well before the season started. But would they fit in?
The answer turns out to be an unequivocal yes for the defending Open Division state champion Red Raiders after Saturday night’s 49-0 season-opening victory over Kamehameha. And that final score wound up being a pretty big point margin for a No. 1 team (ScoringLive.com rankings) going against the No. 6 Warriors, who are expected to compete for an ILH championship this year.
But back to those newcomers. Wow.
Up from the JV team, sophomore Maximum Moe Fonoimoana (yes, indeed, another one from the North Shore clan that churns out athletes left and right, including his older brother, senior safety Brock Fonoimoana) was right there in the staring lineup and it didn’t take him long to strip sack Kamehameha quarterback Kealii Ah Yat and then pounce on the ball in great field position for the Red Raiders offense to put points on the board for a 14-0 lead.
Another noticeable Kahuku varsity first-year player, junior running back Vaaimalae Fonoti, didn’t play a ton, but on the few carries he got, he showed speed, shiftiness, power and a low center of gravity that will make it tough for future opponents to bring him down. Fonoti wound up rushing for 53 yards on five carries, including a 25-yard touchdown.
And one player new to the Red Raiders lineup came over from rival Mililani, but he does have a huge Kahuku connection.
We’re talking about sophomore defensive back Aiden Manutai, who was a key player the Trojans a year ago before transferring.
“It’s a different culture out here and it’s good to be back at my dad’s alma mater,” Manutai said. “It was a good (game), especially since it was our first reps because we had no scrimmages, but we gotta get way better. ”
Manutai’s dad, Lincoln, played for the Red Raiders and was a starting linebacker for the University of Hawaii in 2004.
Manutai finished with one interception and one tackle, but his presence in pass coverage was very noticeable — just like it was for Orem (Utah) transfer Shaun Niu Jr., who made two tackles, and freshman Madden Soliai (three tackles).
And it would be a big mistake to forget the play of another new linebacker, sophomore Fale Atuaia, who had four tackles, including a sack.
Although there are probably many other newcomers who made a difference in the win, it’s a good idea to get backup quarterback Sitani Suguturaga, another transfer from Orem, in this story.The junior looked sturdy (5 feet 11, 180 p0unds) and confident while showing his ability as a dual-threat guy late in the game.
And while he’s not technically a newcomer, sophomore Mana Carvalho, deserves some ink here. A younger brother of senior Kainoa Carvalho, he was injured throughout most of last year up until the final few games while watching Kainoa — all 5-feet-7 of him — earn offensive player of the year honors as the centerpiece of the Kahuku offense.
Going both ways as a defensive back and receiver, Mana scored his first varsity touchdown with an over-the-shoudler catch of a 41-yard Waika Crawford pass. Kainoa, too, showed his prowess once again, scoring three times.
“It was a great team game,” Mana Carvalho said. “It felt good going in and I have a lot of confidence in our team. We still got some things to work on, but we’re looking good out there for the first game. Even without having any scrimmages, we looked good.”
Now that this story is nearing the end, it’s a grand time to look back to see how many new guys were mentioned. The number turns out to be seven (not including Mana Carvalho), and we didn’t even try to find them all.
With all of that Kahuku talent back from last year’s team, it’s a scary thing to ponder just how good this team can be in 2022 now that there’s even more impact players up there on the North Shore.
The Red Raiders (1-0), who didn’t play a home game last year while the new artificial turf was being installed, are back at home Aug. 20 against Waianae (1-0) in the OIA Open opener.
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