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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Kahuku receiver Hafoka now more dangerous than ever

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

As if the Kahuku High School football team's talent level wasn't scary enough for opponents, here's more frightening news:

Kahuku senior Spencer Hafoka said he benefitted from a summer camp in Utah where he trained with Seattle's Itula Mili. Hafoka scored all three times he touched the ball in a win over Saint Louis last week.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Wide receiver Spencer Hafoka, a 2003 Advertiser All-State first-team selection, is back bigger, stronger and faster.

Hafoka was plenty good already, having caught 39 passes for 923 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games last season.

He also was plenty fast and plenty athletic, placing second in the state long jump competition with a leap of 21 feet, 6 inches and taking sixth in the 110 hurdles with a time of 15.85 seconds.

But now the 6-foot Hafoka weighs a solid 180 pounds — up 15 from last year — and says he's stronger and faster after spending much of the summer at a strength and speed "camp" in Utah. He was under the direction of family friend Tui Filiaga and one of his training partners was Seattle Seahawks tight end (and former Kahuku standout) Itula Mili.

"Strength-wise, I wasn't too familiar with the weight room before this summer," said Hafoka, who also plays varsity basketball. "But the first four weeks (of camp), we were lifting, doing a lot of work on the legs. Then the last four to six weeks we did a lot of running on the field and did drills using cones, boxes and ladders."

Hafoka said he never was officially tested in the bench press, squat or 40-yard dash after the camp, but says, "I know I got a lot stronger and better."

The results showed on the field Saturday, when Hafoka scored all three times he touched the ball in a 37-17 nonleague victory over Saint Louis. His 59-yard touchdown scamper on a counter handoff in the second quarter gave the Red Raiders a 12-10 lead they would never relinquish, and his 41-yard scoring reception from Bronson Ponciano-Ahue gave them an 18-10 halftime lead.

Hafoka then delivered the knockout blow with 8:53 remaining in the game when he caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Ponciano-Ahue to put Kahuku up, 37-10.

Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said he "couldn't believe" the Crusaders did not respect the deep threat Hafoka posed, noting Saint Louis brought its safeties up before the two touchdown catches. But Hafoka said the Red Raiders' traditionally strong running attack forces opponents to rely on help from the secondary.

"Every team has to worry about our run," Hafoka said. "That opens up a lot of different options for us."

Kahuku's army of running backs, led by Punahou transfer Micah Strickland (seven carries, 85 yards), rung up 263 yards on the Crusaders' defense. But the Red Raiders also got 196 yards passing from Ponciano-Ahue, including a 62-yard touchdown pass to Redmond Tutor.

"They were very effective throwing the deep ball," said Castle coach Nelson Maeda, who scouted the game.

Two years ago, it appeared Hafoka might be on the front end of those long passes, after he won a heated competition for the starting quarterback job as a sophomore. But it was a rough learning process for him, as his previous year as the JV team's quarterback was the only experience he had calling signals.

"I had never played quarterback and I never planned on playing quarterback, but that's what the team needed, and I had to step up," Hafoka said. "(Winning the varsity job) was a big surprise. It was a lot of pressure, and I didn't start out too well."

By season's end, Hafoka moved back to his natural position of receiver, and last year he flourished in the role.

"That's where I'm most comfortable," he said.

Maeda said Hafoka is one of the rare players whom teams want to use in several ways.

"I think sometimes teams have a 'Mr. Athlete' — a big, versatile guy who is their go-to person, and that's what Hafoka is," Maeda said. "He did a heck of a job (Saturday), and on that counter he literally outran everybody. He's one of those guys who — once they get the ball — can do big damage afterward. He can turn a 5, 6, 7-yard catch into a 30, 40, 50-yard gain. When you play Kahuku, you definitely have to look to stop him."

Meanwhile, many colleges are looking to snare Hafoka as a recruit. He has received strong interest from Colorado, Brigham Young, Utah, Oregon, Arizona State and Hawai'i, and said he is not leaning toward staying home or going away.

"Right now it's both even," said Hafoka, whose immediate plans are to serve a two-year church mission. "I would love to stay home, but that's not going to be the main factor. It's where I really fit in the best."

Reach Wes Nakama at wnakama@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2456.