Dynasty derailed? Hilo features new looks all around as they try to reassert dominance

  • The 6’1”, 290-lb Tyson Kaniaupio, left, is Hilo High’s only returning player with varsity experience. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

  • Hilo High’s Holi Ah Choy will vie for playing time this season on a new-look Vikings squad that seeks their ninth consecutive BIIF Division I title. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

The Hilo High football team will look distinctly different from the locomotive that captured BIIF Division I football championships from 2013 to ’19.

For one thing, offensive coordinator Chris Todd adds the title of head coach, replacing Kaeo Drummondo, who’s now the Vikings athletic director and in charge of all the Covid stuff.

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The Vikings return only one player with experience in senior lineman Tyson Kaniaupio, who’ll play on both sides of the ball.

The team lost five potential impact starters, who moved to Utah to play football and get game tape for college scouts. The biggest loss is senior Lyle Silva, a linebacker and running back, who’s already attracting attention from colleges. The other departed senior is lineman Jase Ambrosio, who’s also drawing college interest.

Junior quarterback Ricky Mamone, who grew up as perfect candidate for Hilo’s RPO (run, pass, option) spread offense, also moved to Utah, along with two promising sophomores in Landon Figueroa, a slotback/cornerback, and Keenan Freeman, a running back/linebacker.

“Obviously losing Lyle is pretty significant. He worked hard to develop,” Todd said. “We don’t have any one person who can do everything Lyle did. It’s the same thing with Ricky. His family has been part of our program for a long time. It’s a loss any time you lose someone who’s not only important but a big piece of what made the program successful.”

If there’s any consolation, Konawaena, Hilo’s biggest Division I rival, lost its three best players in quarterback Garrison Higgins, junior safety/linebacker Kiah Anahu-Ambrosio, and his brother Zedekiah Anahu-Ambrosio, a freshman slotback/running back. They all moved to Utah to play ball.

Kiah Anahu-Ambrosio texted to the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday night that he verbally committed to play for BYU. His brother Zedekiah is the first BIIF player to be offered a Division I scholarship, by BYU, as a freshman.

“We’re looking OK, actually excited after the big layoff. It’s been pretty fun, good to be back,” Todd said. “Tysen is our only returnee. Everyone else is from the junior varsity or brand new. We’ve got a lot of players coming up to the varsity for the first time.”

Kaniaupio, who’s 6 feet 1 and 290 pound, has been invited to play in the Polynesian Bowl, which will be held Jan. 22, 2022 at a site to be determined. He’s clearly the most talented and experienced player on the roster and will shoulder a new role.

“He started for us as a freshman and sophomore, and since Day 1 he’s been ready to go,” Todd said. “It’ll be a big change for him. He’ll take on a leadership role. As a premium player and with his Poly Bowl invite, he’ll get a lot of attention from scouts.

“He’ll step into that leadership vacuum, motivate his teammates, teach them, either get them up for moments or keep them calm. He’s been doing a good job. His teammates can see his focus and effort, and that’s contagious.”

Todd said he understood his players departing Hilo for Utah to get game film, and has a welcome mat for Figueroa and Freeman should they decide to return next year, provided they have all the necessary paperwork.

Kimo Ibanez Jr., a 6-0, 205-pound junior, and senior Koa Akui (5-10, 165) will share the QB job. Each guy bring something different to the table.

“It’s Kimo’s third year in the program. He’s big, strong, possesses a strong arm and has been around the game a lot,” Todd said. “He’s spent a lot of his life playing defensive end. He’ll bring that physicality to the offense. That’s what he excels at.

“Koa is someone who probably worked as hard or harder than anyone we’ve had. He came in as a 5-3, 105-pound freshman, but he worked hard and had a growth spurt. He’s fast, athletic, very coachable, a coach’s son. He picks things up quickly. He’s a smart player. In our offense, we ask the QB to read so many things, read the defensive end, coverages or RPO.”

Two brothers senior Jayden Pasco (5-6, 190) and junior Xiah Kanae (5-5, 155) will split time at running back.

“Jayden is bigger and running the ball will be our identity for offense,” Todd said.

Naoi Richardson, a senior, and Kaunuali’i Harman, a junior will be the wideouts. Harman, who’s a soccer player, is in his first year playing football. Senior Damien Kai and Akui will be the slotbacks.

Walea Pe’a-Whitney, a sophomore, will be the left tackle, Kaniaupio the left guard, junior Isaiah Guerrero the center, junior Ofa Funaki-Pauta the right guard and his cousin, senior Phillip Funaki, the right tackle.

Ezekiel Edward, a junior, will start at defensive end, Kaniaupio at nose guard and senior Daylan Lets, a senior, at the other end spot.

At linebacker, junior Keli’iae’a Davis, senior Alika Germano, and senior Brennen Alcos will start.

In the secondary, senior Isaiah Nakapaahu and junior Kayden Silva-Aquino will start at cornerback, Akui, Kai, and Kanae will all play safety.

Maui Ramos will be the defensive coordinator, and Todd’s sharp memory landed him.

“Part of that happening is in 2017, his defense at Kamehameha gave us a hard time,” Todd said. “His guys did a good job against us. Why not get the guy whose defense gave us a hard time? We’re lucky to get him, and we’ll add that super physical style. A lot of that comes from his physical mentality.”

One of the great things about having a politician on staff for Drummondo is if Hilo’s new football field hits the typical delayed hurdles, he can just talk to Todd.

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The installation of the new synthetic turf field, rubber track field and metal bleachers is expected to be completed after the 2022 season, provided no one drops the ball.

Before he became the offensive coordinator, Todd spent time coaching the JV team, so he has experience developing new guys. It’s another hat he’ll have to wear as the new Vikings coach.

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