Waimea has won 10 consecutive Kaua'i titles
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Coach Jon Kobayashi's Waimea High School football team will play host to Castle in the opening round of the state football playoffs on Friday.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
The best-kept secret in Hawai'i high school football may be tucked away in West Kaua'i, just past an old Russian fort and not far from the spot where Capt. James Cook first set foot on the Hawaiian Islands.
Among some O'ahu teams, however, the secret is already out.
Just ask Kailua, which was stunned by a 20-18 loss to Waimea in the 1999 state quarterfinals. Or Punahou, which was upset by the Menehune 21-13 in last year's preseason shocker.
The Kaua'i Interscholastic Federation, however, has been in on the story for several years, at least since the Menehune won the first of 10 consecutive KIF championships in 1992.
"The rest of the state is just getting to know the Waimea program," said Kapa'a coach Gordon Muramaru. "But we have known how good a job he does over there."
"He" is head coach Jon Kobayashi, a 1986 Waimea graduate who went on to play for Linfield (McMinnville, Ore.) College. Kobayashi took over the Menehune program in 1993, and has proceeded to compile an astonishing 51-2-1 record in league play over nine years.
Waimea (7-1 overall) completed its fourth straight unbeaten KIF season last Friday with a 41-0 victory over Kapa'a, setting up this Friday's state quarterfinal showdown against Castle (8-3) at Vidinha Stadium in Lihu'e.
If the Menehune had sneaked up on O'ahu teams before, they won't against the Knights.
"No way are we taking Waimea lightly," Castle coach Nelson Maeda said. "They're not a 10-time champion for nothing. They have quick, fast, well-disciplined players who fight to the very end. That Kailua team they beat two years ago was a great team, and that win really shocked all of Hawai'i."
Small in size
Waimea is unlike other perennial state football powers like St. Louis, Kahuku, Kamehameha and Wai'anae. With an enrollment of 800 students, it is the smallest of Kaua'i's three public high schools. Its 28-man roster is filled with unimposing kids from a modest plantation community as opposed to brawny Division I college prospects.
Kobayashi said his team's size is "decent" this year, despite a defensive line featuring two 160-pound tackles and a 150-pound nose guard.
As with most successful programs, Waimea has found success through hard work, discipline and tradition. Kobayashi said his team's offseason weight training begins in early January, and it has the players lifting three times a week until spring practice.
Summer training also requires the kids to lift three times a week, in addition to running and other conditioning drills. If a player has more than three unexcused absences, he is asked to find another sport.
"We never cut anybody, they cut themselves," Kobayashi said. "The ones that stay are the ones that really want to be here, and they end up in pretty good shape. We almost always lack the numbers and the size, so we have to make up for it with mental toughness."
Kobayashi said he developed his style mostly from his high school coaches, Tom Rita and Pat Pereira, and his coach at Linfield, Ad Rutschman. The no-nonsense philosophy, and the stunning results it has produced, has drawn attention from other coaches of underdog programs.
"That's the same kind of discipline we're trying to work in here," said Waiakea coach Ed Rocha, whose Warriors play Kailua on Friday in Hilo. "We started with 48 players, but now we're down to 32 because some players weren't disciplined, especially in the classroom. There's no doubt that Waimea has brought a lot of respect for the Neighbor Islands; Jon has done a hell of a job over there. His team has kinda been a role model for all of us."
The formula is not a complex one. The Menehune like to run the ball with senior backs Chesley Barba and Rayson Cacal out of a pro-set or "Offset I" formation, and their defense is a basic five-man front. Because of the limited roster, Waimea has four or five starters who play both ways, and everyone has to learn to play offense, defense and special teams.
But the system works, and fans have been flocking to Hanapepe Ball Park for years to watch it in action.
"They have a rich, rich tradition," Kailua coach Darren Johnson said. "They have strong alumni and community support, just like Kahuku."
Johnson said his 1999 team, which featured all-state running back Rocky Alo, fell to the Menehune mainly because of mistakes ones committed by Kailua and not by Waimea.
"They are so disciplined, I think they're the best I've seen when it comes to that," Johnson said. "They might have made two penalties the whole game; they just don't make stupid mistakes. And their kids work the hardest. I'm impressed with Jon, I always see him at clinics and stuff. I have a lot of respect for what he's done, a lot of respect."
Kobayashi said maintaining Waimea's success gets harder, not easier, every year. He and his staff try to stay ahead by doing heavy scouting, but new obstacles present different challenges.
"High schools go in cycles, and our community now has a lot of older families," Kobayashi said. "And in our league, we can't really do anything that's a surprise because we play each other three times every year; we know each other's tendencies. Plus, there's always somebody at the bottom of the tree, shaking 'em hard."
Waimea has been the one shaking trees in the other leagues recently. Besides the victories over Kailua and Punahou, the Menehune have beaten Leilehua (twice), Waiakea, Maui, Radford and Konawaena in the past five years. They lost to Punahou 24-14 this preseason.
"We always tell the kids that the other teams put their pants on the same way we do," Kobayashi said. "If you believe in the program, think you have a chance, keep playing hard and give it your best shot, anything can happen."