LAHAINA - Lahainaluna High School varsity football coach Bobby Watson is the dean of Maui Interscholastic League gridiron mentors. When asked to access the success of the Luna junior varsity program, he replied in his traditionally straight forward manner: "They always out-coach their opponents."
In scanning the MIL JV football standings over the last two decades, the Lunas have finished at or near the top of the ladder throughout that era, and the leadership core of the program during the run has been built from a familiar mold.
The majority of the Lahainaluna JV staff is made up of former Luna student athletes or community stalwarts.
The Lahainaluna High School junior varsity football team is off to a 3-0 start. PHOTO BY ART FILLAZAR.
Head Coach Aloha Kaniho leads the group with 18 years under his belt with a red Luna whistle around his neck and a family history in Lahaina that dates back through several generations.
He is joined by veterans Sonnie Waiohu (defensive line), Nolle Smith (offensive coordinator, quarterbacks), Dal Magno (defensive coordinator, linebackers), Darren Kawahara (running backs), Andy Claydon (wide receivers), and newcomers Chris Pino (offensive line) and Craig Wise (offensive line).
"I just love these guys," Coach Aloha said last week from the "Imu," the still-sparkling field turf facility on campus.
"These coaches have a passion for what they're doing and they love building the character of the kids through the game of football. We may not start a season with the best athletes in the league, but after every game and at the end of the season, our opponents always know that they have been in a real contest with us. We peak in the second half of the games due to the conditioning program that our coaches bring, and we emphasize discipline and fundamentals. This is what we are all about."
The Luna JVs have jumped out to commanding 3-0 start to the 2012 season, highlighted by a resounding 21-0 win over arch-rival Baldwin.
"This start has been a real surprise for us, as we are such a young and inexperienced team. Most of these players are in their first real experience with organized football, but yet we are winning games," Kaniho said.
"And the important thing to recognize is that we owe this all to Coach Watson and to Coach Garret (Tihada). We are what we are from what we have learned from them: to emphasize discipline, conditioning and fundamentals and to prepare the kids for the varsity. The players, the coaches, the community are all tied into the system here - it is a great tradition that we are privileged to be a part of."
According to Coach Aloha, the Luna JVs will mix up their defensive alignment with three-, four-, five and six-man fronts, and on offense will line up in wing-T, spread and various formations in mimicking the Lahainaluna varsity on both sides of the ball.
"We try to keep it simple as not to confuse the kids," he said. "The main thing is that we stay within the same system as the varsity and do the things that they do, and how they do it. With so many young players, it is a nice surprise that we have done as well as we have, and I give credit to the coaches for our success. This year we've started an after school study hall program, and we've had success with it, as the whole 50-player roster has made grades. I can't remember us ever doing this before."
The Lunas will play an eight-game MIL schedule with two rounds against Baldwin, Maui High, King Kekaulike and Kamehameha Schools Maui. They finished the 2011 season in second place with a 6-2 mark.
"This is a great group of kids we have this year, and we send our aloha out to all of their families for the support they have given us this year and throughout the years. Also, our sincere thanks goes out to all of the wives and girlfriends of the coaches and to the community for their continued support. I just love doing this and wouldn't want to be anywhere else," Coach Aloha concluded.