One of Preston Taumua’s greatest highlights is how much he highlights others

One of Preston Taumua’s greatest highlights is how much he highlights others

Preston Taumua

By: Nick Abramo

Preston Taumua rates as the proverbial big man on campus at Aiea, but that’s not how he tells it.

Sure, he listens when people tell him how good he is as Na Alii’s left tackle, but in his own mind, he’s not at that advanced point yet.

“It’s nice to hear it from others,” Taumua told Hawaii Sports Radio Network on Wednesday. “It was in the middle of ninth grade that I would hear the coaches and that’s when I knew I had to keep playing the sport.”

Photo credit: Nick Abramo

Even now as a highly recruited junior with the plaudits and scholarship offers continuing to roll in, he’s in awe of it all.

“When I got the Oregon offer, I was surprised because I don’t think I’m close to my potential yet in high school,” Taumua said.

That may be true, but where he’s at is not only good enough for the Ducks’ brass, but also seven other FBS Division I schools. Alabama, among the most storied college football programs ever, is the latest to send a scholarship offer Taumua’s way. The others are big-name programs Ohio State, Florida, Oklahoma, Utah, Arizona and Nebraska.

“He’s still growing,” Aiea coach Wendell Say said about the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman. “He was 6-4 last year and grew an inch. He might grow another inch next year. My wife saw him in person for the first time on our trip to Maui and asked, ‘Is that Preston? He’s huge. He takes up the whole elevator.’ ”

Size is one thing, but Taumua’s technique and effort are also the things the college coaches are looking for.

“He runs well for his size,” Say added. “When we do conditioning, we do a lot of running and he and the Rouse brothers (6-5, 210-pound defensive end Logan and 6-4, 275-pound right tackle Max) are always the first in the runs. Some guys smaller then them can’t keep up. Preston has strength and good balance and has good movement off of the ball. He can shuffle right and shuffle left. When he’s blocking, he’s hard to beat.”

Playing with his brother (literally) and brothers (teammates) is a big deal for the big boy who wears jersey No. 68 in forest green and white (and pink in October in honor of breast cancer awareness month).

His older brother, senior Parker Taumua, is a defensive lineman for Na Alii. And, for sure, Preston just can’t seem to ever say enough about many of the others on the roster. If the interview for this story went longer, he probably would have hit every player on the list.

“I’ll call you back and tell you more about them,” he said after getting into the importance of his friendship with a handful of the other boys and how Ezekiel Olie and Jayden Chanel would win the best quarterback/receiver combo award if there was such a thing.

And Taumua proudly detailed what the rest of the offensive linemen mean to him.

“We’ve got three seniors,” Taumua said. “Parker Griep at center, Trace Ader (right guard) is the vocal one who speaks up for everybody. Max is the brains of the line. Whenever we don’t know something, we go to him and he knows what to do. After the seniors, we’ve got (left guard) Ezra Nahoopii-Makakona, who is my right hand man and he’s always there to pick up the slack every time I do something bad. Upu (Howard) is a starter in the same position as Trace, who is injured right now. And one other guy who plays center and guard, Matthew Tulia, is a good all-around player who brings us up when we’re down and makes sure we keep our chill when we need to.”

Giving others credit is Taumua’s modus operandi, or as Say puts it, “He’s the nicest kid. You don’t find too many who are as good as him on the field and as humble as he is.”

An Aiea junior varsity player who got called up to the varsity for the postseason, linebacker Reise Hans-Pickett, found out real quick what it’s like to practice against Taumua.

“He gets into the block really well and you barely have time to react,” Hans-Pickett said. “Then his hands are like vice grips that can punch through your chest. I’m grateful for the opportunity to practice with such a great player, but I don’t like holes in my chest.”

Aiea (9-3) will have one or two games to play before the season is through.
First up is a Saturday game against Konawaena (9-1), the BIIF Division I champion, in the D-I semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.

A win in that one would put Na Alii in the state title game against the winner of Saturday’s other D-I semifinal between Waipahu (10-1) and ‘Iolani (9-0).

“I think we have a strong team,” Taumua said. “I keep telling them that we have to go over there (to the Big Island) and rough them up and let them know how we play over here.”

Interestingly enough, one of Taumua’s career highlights is, you guessed it, about others.

“I was crying,” he said about a 38-30 loss to Waipahu in the OIA D-I championship game. “It was tough. They have a player, Seth Setu. He’s only 5-6, but he’s by far the hardest D-end I’ve ever met. He tried to rush the outside using his speed and used his outside hand to swipe my arm and try to swim move me. The next thing you know, I feel his elbow hitting my rib and then he spins and I got caught. He got me and then got a sack. I had him (previously handled) the whole game. But what I like about him is — as those Waipahu guys were all celebrating and jumping up and down across the field — Seth and (middle linebacker) Romeo (Tagata) came straight to our sideline to shake everybody’s hands.”

Freshly Recovered From A Fractured Kneecap, OIA Title-Winning Ninth-Grade QB Elijah Mendoza Guides Waipahu Into The D-I Football State Tournament

Freshly Recovered From A Fractured Kneecap, OIA Title-Winning Ninth-Grade QB Elijah Mendoza Guides Waipahu Into The D-I Football State Tournament

Ninth-Grade QB Elijah Mendoza Guides Waipahu Into D-I Football State Tournament

By: Nick Abramo

When No. 13 stepped out to play quarterback for Waipahu in the OIA Division I championship game, it was a surprise to everybody not associated with the Marauders.

The real eye-opener was yet to come for Elijah Mendoza, a freshman, who walked on to the field for his first varsity game to lead a bunch of boys one, two and three years older than him. Talk about untested. Talk about butterflies.

“For every freshman going out there, you should be nervous,” Mendoza told Hawaii Sports Radio Network on Wednesday before practice in preparation for Friday’s D-I first-round game at home against Kapaa (5-3) in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships. “But you shouldn’t be scared. Once you play in the game, you get used to it over time and everything slows down. Playing at that high level, I knew I had to be more disciplined and keep that mind-set of getting the ball out quick.”

The results were absolutely fantastic. Even though the Marauders (9-1) fell behind by 17 points against Aiea, they didn’t buckle and fought back to win 38-30 at the Mililani High field on Oct. 29 for the school’s first league title since 2018.

Personally, Mendoza made the step up to varsity a memorable one, completing 29 of 45 passes for 262 yards and four touchdowns.

2022 OCT 29 SPT – Photo by Andrew Lee / Hawaii High School Athletic Association

A lesser prepared player, certainly, may not have gotten Waipahu to this particular promised land.

“He has a great knowledge of the game,” Marauders coach Bryson Carvalho said. “Eli has a willingness to learn. We meet at 3:30 every day, breaking down film. Some of the older kids fall asleep and think it’s the boring part. It’s a long process and you replay and replay. He’s just so willing to learn. A true football player, to me, has to enjoy that part.”

When junior starting QB Joshua Manu, who had a great season going, went down with a season-ending injury in a 59-24 win over Roosevelt on Sept. 23, Carvalho moved star receiver/kick returner/safety Liatama Uiliata to QB.

With Uiliata leading the offense, Waipahu didn’t miss a beat. However, they were not getting the most out of the versatile multi-position player.

And then some real serendipity happened for Carvalho and the Marauders. The coach knew Mendoza, who had played three JV games but was out with a fractured kneecap, was capable to step in if healthy.

“Essentially, Eli played three JV games, which is not a lot of experience,” Carvalho said. “We brought him up to varsity one week when we thought JJ (Manu) was sick and didn’t know if he was going to play. It ended up being just a cold, so Eli went back down to JV, where he wasn’t fully the starter and really worked to earn that spot. Then, when he got hurt, we thought he may be out for the season, but we were never sure. So I had that (a possible move back up to varsity for Mendoza) in his ear.”

While preparing for a first-round OIA playoff game against Farrington on Oct. 21, Carvalho found out from Mendoza that he was cleared to run with full pads but no contact.

“On Monday, the (next) week of the championship game, I was scheming two different game plans, one with Eli and one with Tama at QB, but because of the faith I had, I was riding more on what we could do with Eli,” Carvalho said. “At midday, he texted me that he was cleared. I told Tama, who said, ‘Let’s go coach. Let’s do this.’ It turned out to be quite a comeback story for Eli and now we’re not shooting down Tama’s versatility.”

One big aspect of Mendoza’s learning curve has been getting used to the speed of the varsity level. But Carvalho had that covered by making practice extra difficult for the kid.

“Practice was harsh on me,” Mendoza said. “It was really fast.”

Added Carvalho: “In JV and youth football, you can get away with a lot more and throw the ball to a receiver if he is open. In varsity, you have to see where he is going to get and then throw it on his break. You can’t wait and look at the break. So I really got on him (about that). I’ve been real hard on him.”

After seeing the potent Aiea defense in the title game, Mendoza knows there’s a lot of room for growth. And he’ll get three years to do just that before graduating.

“I think I did all right for my first game in vars,” he said. “Still, I think I could have gotten the ball out faster and more crisper. I was floating balls on the short routes and I know I can be faster there. And, when I was running and scrambling, I was a little too upright.”

Uiliata, who is a candidate for state offensive player of the year honors, spoke to Mendoza before the big test.

“He came up to me and told me to ball out, to trust in the team, trust in the receivers, trust in everybody,” Mendoza said.

And the freshman added his thoughts about the next game against the Warriors from the Garden Island who moved up to D-I this season after winning the D-II state title a year ago.

“We cannot let our guard down,” Mendoza said. “Gotta keep working. Kapaa is going to be a tough team and we’ve all told each other that we have to be ready for them.”

 

2022 OCT 29 SPT – Photo by Andrew Lee / Hawaii High School Athletic Association

Click here to purchase tickets for the 2022 First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships.

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22)

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22) By: Paul BrechtHONOLULU – Happy holidays and a warm welcome back from us at Sharks Weekly, as host Jason Genegabus was joined this week by the HPU women’s soccer head coach Adria Borras, assistant...

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Easton Yoshino and the Cougars aiming to start strong Saturday

Easton Yoshino and the Cougars aiming to start strong Saturday

Easton Yoshino and the Cougars aiming to start strong Saturday

By: Nick Abramo

Easton Yoshino would much prefer if he and his teammates got off to faster starts.

The Kaiser senior quarterback is developing a reputation as a comeback kid, though — something that just would not have happened if his team didn’t have such a hard-to-break habit of falling behind.

“We’ve only had one game where we started off hot and kept it going and we’re looking forward to doing that again,” Yoshino told Hawaii Sports Radio Network on Thursday.

One piece of good news is that the Cougars (6-3) will have multiple chances to try. On Saturday, Kaiser faces its stiffest challenge of 2022 when it meets Nanakuli (8-1) in the OIA Division II championship game at the Mililani High field. After that, win or lose, it’s on to next month’s D-II state tournament.

“We think about it all the time,” Yoshino said about the team taking too long to heat up. “Why is it that we randomly click in the second half? We started huddling up after every drive in the Kaimuki game (a 41-32 comeback win on Sept. 24) and then we stopped doing that before bringing it back for the Pearl City game. It’s been working when we get together like that and let each other know what we’re all seeing out there. Halftime always helps too, when we debrief. It’s like we have to see it (the defense’s machinations) first.”

That Pearl City game happened to be the league semifinals last Friday and, on cue, the Cougars trailed 24-7 before mounting a comeback and winning in overtime on Yoshino’s 10-yard TD pass to Makana Naleieha.

A quite similar situation occurred on Sept. 17, when Kaiser trailed the Chargers by 20 points and fought back only to fall short in a 27-21 loss that was made extra agonizing by the fact that receiver Donovan Reis — who caught a Yoshino pass and was headed for the end zone — got tackled at the Pearl City 7 as time ran out.

Starting in the 2019 season when his brother Mason Yoshino was a slotback, Easton has been a four-year Kaiser quarterback, although he did lose the whole 2020 season like everyone else in the state due to COVID-19.

Without a doubt, though, Yoshino’s hallmark capability — in addition to a quick release and timely escapability — is an uncanny ability to avoid the outward appearance of panic. More simply put, he’s calm in the pocket.

“The bigger philosophy that me and my dad (Jesse Yoshino, a Kaiser receiver in the 1990s who was thrust into quarterbacking duty as a senior when the starter was injured) work on as to why I stay calm and not freak out after the first read is because in the game you’re going to get hit,” Easton said. “So would you rather get hit and complete the pass or get hit and not complete it. You’re going to get hit either way.”

Another big plus in that regard, especially as the season progresses and the Cougars’ young line matures, is that there is an offensive unit trust that is continually getting stronger.

“I’m constantly talking to my line out there when we see pressure and I’m telling my running back Kai Blackston to check a certain place and maybe slide out that way,” Yoshino said. “I trust my O-line. They work hella hard.”

If COVID-19 didn’t happen and Yoshino didn’t miss his sophomore season, who knows where he’d be now with four years of experience (and stats) piling up.
“That’s definitely something we talk about all the time as a family,” Yoshino said. “How much more I could have grown and seen in that one year.”

And it is conceivable that he just may have broken the state mark for passing yards in a career.

With his 2,709 passing yards this season (with at least two and possibly four games left), Yoshino has 6,938 career yards, ranking ninth in Hawaii history. Mililani’s Dillon Gabriel, now playing for the University of Oklahoma, is the all-time leader with 9,848.

For touchdowns, Yoshino is already tied for fourth all-time with Mililani’s McKenzie Milton and behind only Saint Louis’ Timmy Chang (113), Gabriel (105) and the Crusaders’ Tua Tagovailoa (84).

“It was really something to see his maturation process, his growth as a young man and a QB,” Cougars coach Tim Seaman said about his starting QB. “He sees the field so much better now as a senior than he did as a freshman. He’s also been fortunate that we’ve had a lot of good receivers come though.

“Physically, he throws a really nice ball and his mechanics have cleaned up over the years. He’s very accurate and also accurate on the move and can throw from different platforms into tight windows.”

One trait Easton picked up from his father and brother is his role as a leader.

“They always stressed that all the eyes are on you,” Easton said. “When you do good, you get praise. When you do bad, they’re looking at you. You have to fight through that stuff, don’t pay it any mind and lead the team.”

After winning the OIA title and its first nine games a year ago, the Cougars got the proverbial rug taken right out from under them in a 48-24 loss to Kamehameha-Maui in the state D-II semifinals

Now, they’re going for a second straight league championship Saturday and it won’t be easy. The Golden Hawks have won eight straight games after a season-opening 16-0 loss to Maui, a Division I team.

“They’re a very tough team and it will be a tough matchup for us,” Seaman said. “They’re very physical and they have size with big skill guys as well. They run hard and play hard and they’ve been really strong on the defensive side of the ball consistently all year.”

One thing is for sure: Yoshino and the Cougars are aiming to start strong Saturday, but, even if they don’t, they’ll most likely at least have the hope of another late-game rally led by the whiz kid.

“We watched Nanakuli play early in the season,” Yoshino said. “They’re a great team. They play really hard and don’t give up. I feel like we’ve prepared well this week and I think we’ll match up with them pretty good. It should be an interesting game.”

Photo Credit: Kinue Miller

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22)

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22) By: Paul BrechtHONOLULU – Happy holidays and a warm welcome back from us at Sharks Weekly, as host Jason Genegabus was joined this week by the HPU women’s soccer head coach Adria Borras, assistant...

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No. 1 ‘Iolani def. Kapolei 3-0 to Advance to HHSAA Semifinals

No. 1 ‘Iolani def. Kapolei 3-0 to Advance to HHSAA Semifinals

No. 1 ‘Iolani def. Kapolei 3-0 to Advance to HHSAA Semifinals

By Nick Abramo

Setter Maya Imoto-Eakin had the ‘Iolani offense in fine form Wednesday night.

The senior had 30 assists and the Raiders made quick work of Kapolei, winning the HHSAA/New City Nissan Girls Volleyball State Championships’ Division I quarterfinal match, 25-10, 25-13, 25-13, at the Moanalua High gym.

With the victory, top-seeded ‘Iolani (12-1) advanced to Thursday night’s semifinals against OIA runner-up Mililani (13-2) in the featured 7 p.m. match at Moanalua.

The Raiders are the only remaining team in the tournament from the ILH, a league that has won every D-I state title since 2003.

Punahou, the ILH’s other representative, fell to third-seeded Kamehameha-Hawaii, 25-12, 25-22, 27-25, on Wednesday at the McKinley gym.

En route to ‘Iolani’s sweep, Senna Roberts-Navarro supplied plenty of power by hitting .382 with 15 kills. Brooke Naniseni, with nine kills, and Eryn Hiraki, with seven, were also big contributors offensively.

Tessa Onaga, with 19 digs, led the Raiders’ sturdy defensive effort.

For Kapolei, Malinah Purcell-Telefoni put down eight kills, Henua Moefu and Leila Paraoan added six each, and setter Shayla Lacamiento had 26 assists.

All is not done for the Hurricanes (12-4). They meet Baldwin, which came into the tournament as the fourth seed, in a consolation match Thursday at 5 p.m. at McKinley. The winner of that one moves on to the fifth-place match Friday.

In a matchup of unbeaten in Thursday’s other D-I semifinal at Moanalua, BIIF champion Kamehameha-Hawaii (17-0), fresh off that impressive win Wednesday over the Buff ’N Blue (9-7), takes on second-seeded OIA champion Kahuku (14-0. Start time is 5 p.m.

Those Red Raiders from the North Shore barely got past Moanalua on Wednesday at McKinley, 25-19, 21-25, 26-24, 31-33, 15-13.

After Thursday’s semifinals, the D-I tournament continues on Friday at the Stan Sheriff Center through the championship match at 7 p.m.

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22)

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22) By: Paul BrechtHONOLULU – Happy holidays and a warm welcome back from us at Sharks Weekly, as host Jason Genegabus was joined this week by the HPU women’s soccer head coach Adria Borras, assistant...

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A Rock Of A Wide Receiver For Kailua: Senior Nainoa Smith-Akana

A Rock Of A Wide Receiver For Kailua: Senior Nainoa Smith-Akana

A Rock Of A Wide Receiver For Kailua: Senior Nainoa Smith-Akana

By: Nick Abramo

One of the top Hawaii high school football highlights circulating on social media this fall is a wide receiver’s jaunt up the left sideline of a football game.

That player is Nainoa Smith-Akana of the Kailua Surfriders and he appeared pretty close to indestructible in the video, eluding the first Radford tackler, peeling himself off of a second one, bashing off the next defender and then storming through at least four more before finally emerging to daylight for an 89-yard touchdown reception.

When you talk to teammates and coaches, yes, that is a perfect summation of what Smith-Akana is all about on the football field — iron-willed and built to withstand the punishment.

“You can’t tackle him with one guy,” Surfriders coach Joe Wong told Hawaii Sports Radio Network. “Whether you’re a linebacker or a DB, they’re not going to get him alone. He’s strong and elusive and explosive and he knows when to turn on the jets.”

This is a day-of-reckoning week for the Kailua boys, who will play Aiea in the OIA Division I semifinals Saturday at the Radford field.

A victory in that one would put the Surfriders into the state tournament, a place where they have not been since the 2003 season.

And a win Saturday is not at all far-fetched. The last time the two teams met, on Sept. 10, Aiea won by a slim 13-7 margin.

Photo: TakoEye Photography

“We’ve been talking about this since last season because we had a bad season,” Smith-Akana said. “Went 2-4 and we wanted to come out with a bang this season and show what we’re about in Kailua. A lot of people were telling us we were going to get smashed against Aiea last time because they were the No. 9 ranked team in the state. We came out and played our game and even though we lost, we showed that we aren’t a weak team like last year and that we can play with anybody.”

Coach Wong, the bull-like former NFL offensive lineman, naturally loves Smith-Akana’s toughness.

“There’s a reason why he is so hard to tackle,” Wong said. “He hits the weight room hard. He’s that guy. He’ll line up as a receiver, but we may use him on a jet sweep or a quick pass out of the backfield. Any way to get him the ball.”

A Saint Louis transfer, Smith-Akana is clearly a team-first player. When asked about his high school career highlight, he said, “Senior night, seeing all the boys on my team, smiling and having fun and winning the game against Roosevelt last week. We were down and we never gave up for the team, the coaches, fans in the stands, for the whole community.”

A more selfish player, perhaps, would have said his highlight was scoring the winning touchdown. And on the field, that is exactly what Smith-Akana did on a 23-yard post-route reception from Romeo Ortiz with 2:11 left for the 30-29 victory.

“We knew he was going to be open,” Wong said. “The whole staff knew that No. 5 (jersey) was going to be open. What a way to end your high school home career. Nine times out of 10, no 10 times out of 10, he gets open. He can catch the ball without seeing it sometimes. I don’t know how he does that.”

As far as the next level goes, Wong pictures the 5 foot 10, 190-pound Smith-Akana playing at a Division II or NAIA college and possibly even transferring up to D-I.

“Hawaii might even want him,” the coach said. “I think he would have a stellar career there if he stayed home.”

And that aforementioned run in which he refused to go down is not something out of the ordinary. He’s done it before and plans to do it again.

“I think of it as a sacrifice for my team to get those first downs, those big yardage plays,” Smith-Akana said. “It’s all really for my team and our goal to win a championship.”

Photo: Nainoa Smith-Akana

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22)

Sharks Weekly Review: Women’s Soccer (12/5/22) By: Paul BrechtHONOLULU – Happy holidays and a warm welcome back from us at Sharks Weekly, as host Jason Genegabus was joined this week by the HPU women’s soccer head coach Adria Borras, assistant...

read more