Aug. 23 vs. Mission Viejo 7:30 p.m.
BIIF Division I regular season schedule
Aug. 17 vs. Kealakehe 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 at Honokaa 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Keaau 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Waiakea 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. Hilo 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Kealakehe 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Waiakea 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Keaau 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 vs. Honokaa 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Hilo 7:30 p.m.
At a glance
5-2 BIIF, 5-5 overall.
Lost to Kamehameha-Hawaii in BIIF Division II championship 27-22.
Brad Uemoto (fifth season)
Offense: 2 | Defense: 6
“Looking across the state, I feel like we can get on the field and compete. It will be a test for us and something our program is going to build off of.”
• Uemoto on the Wildcats’ move to Division I
KEALAKEKUA — Under head coach Brad Uemoto, Konawaena has never been a program to turn down a challenge. So when the BIIF shook up its divisions this offseason, the natural next step for the Wildcats was to make the confident leap to Division I.
After six titles over the last eight years in D-II, Konawaena made it official in May that it would join the BIIF’s top-tier, competing with Hilo, Keaau, Waiakea, Honokaa and cross-town rival Kealakehe for the league’s crown.
“We will definitely compete in Division I. I have no regrets in wanting to go up,” Uemoto said. “Looking across the state, I feel like we can get on the field and compete. It will be a test for us and something our program is going to build off of.”
Konawaena senior pass-catcher Marc Basa echoed his coach’s sentiment about embracing the challenge.
“We always feel like underdogs,” Basa said. “We don’t care about attention and stuff. We all play for each other and for this community.”
Uemoto admits that the numbers are down just a bit from years past, which is a year-to-year ebb and flow in Kealakekua. But what’s not down is the talent level in the Konawaena locker room, which is evident by just a quick eye test.
“We have a lot of dynamic players that can play on both sides of the ball,” Uemoto said. “We are going to be more committed to playing two-way guys and putting the best product on the field.”
The strength of the Wildcats will be their towering defensive line, headlined by 6-foot-3, 205-pound pass rusher Alex Muti, who has already committed to play at BYU next season.
Between the bass blasts from the locker room music, Muti searched for a word to describe the 2019 edition of the Wildcats.
“Talented,” Muti said. “We want to let our play on the field do the talking.”
The usually soft-spoken defensive end has certainly done that with his play, earning him a reputation as one of the most impactful defenders not only in the BIIF, but also the state. Muti — who was the BIIF defensive player of the year in D-II last year — has put on some noticeable bulk since last year, which is bad news for the teams that will try to mold their game plan around slowing him down.
But as those teams will find out, Muti’s no one-man show on the defensive line. His other three buddies in the trenches come with returning starter experience in AJ Alani, Elisha Martin and Kekainalu Meyers and can be equally lethal if left unchecked.
“We all bring something different to the table,” Muti said. “If I’m not able to get there or am getting double-teamed, I know someone else will be there to get the tackle.”
What Uemoto said makes Muti special is that he’s not a stat-chaser. He knows his numbers will come as long as he plays his role within the system.
“He’s so unselfish,” Uemoto said. “We are a defense that plays off responsibilities and he doesn’t get out of character in that sense. When he’s drawing attention, it opens up so many opportunities for other kids.”
The linebackers will be anchored by seniors Jaimison Medeiros and Samson Iona.
“He’s deceptively fast, takes really good angles and is a physical kid,” Uemoto said of Iona. “He’s great at coming downhill and stopping the run.”
Noah Bredeson was an All-BIIF pick last year at safety thanks to his ball-hawking skills. But this year he’s expected to make the move to corner to take advantage of his length.
“He’s solidified one side on the field for us,” Uemoto said. “He’s long and plays with a chip on his shoulder, which is exactly what you want out of a corner.”
Kaden Baptista, James Kapela and Joseph Roback are other players Uemoto expects to contribute as defensive backs.
One of the biggest issues the Wildcats were dealing with this offseason was finding a quarterback after Sheynen Nahale, last year’s starter, transferred to Kealakehe. The Wildcats went most of the summer without a solution until Kainoa “Boo” Jones landed in their laps as a transfer from Kealakehe.
“It was a blessing he came to our program and has really been able to take over that position for us,” Uemoto said.
Jones was the starting JV quarterback his freshman year, but only received limited reps at quarterback last season with the Waveriders, as senior Jorden Himalaya occupied the top spot on the depth chart. Jones instead made an impact as a wide receiver — a testament to his athleticism and versatility, two things Uemoto believes will help him thrive with the Wildcats.
“He resembles a lot of what (former QB) Austin (Ewing) gave us in terms of intangibles,” Uemoto said. “He’s got great arm strength and has the ability to run around and make plays. He’s going to be exciting to watch and he has a good receiving corps.”
Basa and returning All-BIIF wide receiver Jesse Canda will be the focal points of the passing game, while the Wildcats will rely mostly on a running back by committee approach with their ground game.
“Our offense is going to be bangin’ this season,” Basa said. “We are ready to put up some numbers.”
Konawaena is dealing with an entirely new unit of starters on the offensive line, but Uemoto said he’s optimistic about the group’s future, praising O-line coach Jason Leleiwi’s ability to develop talent.
“The most important thing with offensive lineman is that they have to love playing that position. That’s what we are seeing from those guys so far,” Uemoto said. “As far as our offensive approach, we are trying to be fairly balanced. I want to be able to mix it up and use our RPO (run-pass option) game to keep defenses off-balance.”
With Pahoa, Ka‘u and Kohala making the jump from the 8-man game to Division II, it’s is the first time the BIIF will have 11 teams since the league began sponsoring the sport in 1956.
Previously, with an eight-team league, everyone played each other once during the BIIF season, regardless of division. Now, divisional opponents will play each other twice per year in home-and-aways. If a team want to win a championship, they’ll have to face the same team three times, which leads to all kinds of coaching challenges.
“Scores get closer, games get tighter and it turns into more of a coaching battle. A lot of games are decided by who adjusts, as well as the new wrinkles and schemes implemented,” Uemoto said. “It’s a lot about gamesmanship and not putting certain things on film that teams can prepare for. That’s the kind of coaching I like. I’m going to have a lot of fun with it.”
Konawaena opens its season against Kealakehe on Saturday, but will welcome a non-league visitor on Aug. 23 in California powerhouse Mission Viejo. Just like last year when the Wildcats went to Oahu to face Kahuku, the game is all about expanding horizons, regardless of the final score. The Diablos are currently ranked No. 36 in the country, according to MaxPreps.
“We always want to challenge our program against great teams. The opportunity came up late last year and I said why not. They’re excited to come down here,” Uemoto said. “We can play with some of these bigger teams, but it’s just a matter of putting in the work and being more consistent during a football game. The more you see that level, the better you can mimic it.”
Konawaena is slated to head to California next season to take on Mission Viejo on their home turf.
“That’s going to be just an awesome experience,” Uemoto said.