Class of 1980 might be best of all time
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
With graduation season wrapping up and class reunion season soon in full swing, this is a time for celebration and reflection.
And upon reflection, classmates will recall memorable athletes and sports moments from the glory days of high school.
Those celebrating their 30th year reunion, however, may have more to remember than others.
"I'm a little biased, obviously, but I haven't seen a group of athletes from one single year as good as ours," said Rich Miano, a 1980 graduate of Kaiser and current associate head football coach at the University of Hawai'i. "It was just a phenomenal time in local high school sports."
The list of premier athletes who graduated in 1980 includes some of the most recognizable in Hawai'i sports history: Mike Akiu (Kalāheo), John Kamana (Punahou), Leroy Lutu (University High), Eric Morales (University High), Falaniko Noga (Farrington), Kaulana Park (Kamehameha), Boyd Yap (Kamehameha/Kaiser) ...
And, of course, Miano.
"But when you think about it," Miano said, "I probably was the least athletic out of all of those guys, as far as natural ability. I remember lining up for the 4 by 100-meter relay, looking across and seeing guys like John Kamana, Carter Kamana, Mike Akiu, Falaniko Noga ... Those guys were all (NCAA) Division I football players. I had to walk on at UH."
Miano, the self-described "least athletic" of the elite group, eventually played 11 seasons in the NFL.
The centerpieces of this class were Punahou's John Kamana and University High's Leroy Lutu — both considered among the greatest athletes of their generation.
Kamana was 6 feet 3, 200 pounds, with sprinter's speed and super-hero agility. Lutu was 6-4, 210, with Julius Erving-type hands, grace and vertical leap.
"I had heard stories about Leroy even before high school, about how talented he was," Kamana said. "People would compare us, because we were fairly the same height and size. I didn't like it, but I learned to compete. Whatever he would do, I would do my best to try and duplicate or do better. It was a friendly rivalry, but we didn't back down from each other."
Both were freshman starters on their varsity basketball teams, and sophomore starters in football.
Kamana was an All-State first team receiver as a sophomore, and Lutu was the basketball State Player of the Year as a 10th-grader.
The rivalry continued throughout their careers, culminating in the 1980 basketball state championship game, won by Punahou.
Kamana played college football at Southern California, where he started as a sophomore flanker in the same offense as Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen.
Lutu, an All-State receiver for Pac-Five, played tight end for Washington in two Rose Bowls.
Park, a football, basketball and baseball standout, played fullback for Stanford and his Kamehameha classmate, John Haina, played at Cal during those same years.
"We went 0-3 against UW," Kamana said. "I hated that."
MANY CLASSIC MOMENTS
Along with the great athletes came great moments.
Yap, a dazzling All-State running back for Kamehameha as a sophomore and junior, transferred to Kaiser for his senior football season and led the Cougars to their first (and only) O'ahu Prep Bowl championship.
Immediately after the game — in which he rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns — Yap walked over to the Kamehameha sideline where he was greeted with lei, hugs and tears.
"The biggest thing for us was that Boyd won," said Carter Kamana, John's brother who played cornerback for the Warriors. "We were just as happy for him."
The basketball season was highlighted not just with the Kamana-Lutu rivalry, but also with UHS' high-flying senior twins, Eric and Evans Morales. Each standing about 5-11, they became crowd favorites largely because of their thunderous fast-break dunks.
"It would pump up the team, pump up the crowd," said Eric Morales, who also was Pac-Five quarterback and The Advertiser's State Offensive Player of the Year.
The track and field season also provided memorable moments.
One stunning sight in particular was Noga — a strapping, 6-2, 200-pound football defensive lineman — winning the state shot put title and then walking over to line up for the 100 and 200-meter dashes.
"The first time I saw Falaniko Noga in a track outfit ... I had never seen a high school kid with that kind of muscles," Miano said.
Said Akiu: "He was a beast."
Akiu, at 5-8 and about 160, was stunning to watch in his own right.
"I ran the anchor in the (state championship) 4 by 400, and when I grabbed the baton I was 50 yards behind," Akiu said. "We won."
Akiu and Castle senior Mark Hadama — a standout running back — had a smaller individual rivalry on the Windward side.
"We would play baseball against each other during the week, and then race each other on Saturday," said Akiu, who later played football for UH and the Houston Oilers.
The Class of '80 included many other classic athletes and memories — which surely will be recounted during upcoming reunions.
Kamana, who later played one season with Los Angeles Rams, said his high school memories remain among his most cherished.
"Those were enjoyable times," he said.