The brand new Edward 'Skippa' Diaz Stadium at Kusunoki Field will be christened Friday night with a classic matchup.
Farrington will play host to Kamehameha — its neighbor just over a mile mauka on Kalihi Street — Friday night to kick off the opening weekend of prep football. It will mark the first game at the state-of-the-art $19.3 million facility.
The Warriors, who are ranked seventh in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Division I Football Power Rankings, are coming off a 3-6 record in 2016 and a third-place finish in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
The ninth-ranked Governors posted an 8-4 mark last year and reached the semifinal rounds of both the Oahu Interscholastic Association and Open Division state tournaments.
We caught up with the coaches of both teams Wednesday afternoon — two days before their clash in Kalihi.
ScoringLive: What is the feeling like at practice leading up to Friday's season opener?
Abu Maafala, Kamehameha coach: "Our kids had a great summer and a great camp, so they're working hard and they're running on all cylinders right now. We had a great workout (Tuesday), they were flying around and crisp and that's all that you can ask for."
Randall Okimoto, Farrington coach: "It's hard to say because from the kids' standpoint and the team it probably doesn't feel that different from over the years, or as compared to other years leading up to our first game. I think the feeling of everyone else involved in putting on the first game at Farrington is one of chaos. At the same time it's welcomed chaos, but because you are dealing with so many moving parts and so you add something that we were not accustomed to doing, that's why I call it a welcomed chaos. Our (athletics director) is doing things he usually didn't do, our administration is doing things they usually didn't do and there's many volunteers involved and even myself, so I think from the adults' standpoint the feeling is much different from last year, but from the players' standpoint, it hasn't been much different. The added burden is on the adults, not the kids."
SL: Where has your team shown the most improvement over the offseason?
Maafala: "I think just overall as a team, overall as a program, we're a lot tighter. I think there's a lot better chemistry this year within the entire team — not just offense and defense — but I think everybody is together and I think that showed in our two scrimmages. When things got tight and guys were moving the ball on us, we were working as a team and guys were lifting each other up instead of stepping down on each other, so we know we've got something special brewing around here."
Okimoto: "I'd rather not answer that question."
SL: How much do you balance winning Friday's game with continuing long-term development for the season?
Maafala: "The number one thing that we talk about in our program is ‘winning is a byproduct of doing things right and the foundation that we lay,' so it's never about wins and losses for us. Our effort, our attention to detail, our desire to get better, that stuff gives you a chance to win. We hope to keep our focus on that alone and hope it pays dividends and gives us a chance to win the game on Friday."
Okimoto: "Whatever happens on Friday, we are a work in progress. It's the first game of the season and we will find out who will do their job and who won't. That's from top down to bottom up, we are one team and my message to the team has been, 'no matter what happens, you show up on Saturday morning ready to be productive.'"
SL: With Friday being the first game at Edward "Skippa" Diaz Stadium at Kusunoki Field and all the pageantry it will bring, how do your minimize potential distractions for your players?
Maafala: "I think you've got to embrace it. We've talked about it and challenged our guys that ‘they're expecting five thousand guys in the stands and it's going to be on statewide TV, so how are you going to respond?' These guys are 14- to 17-years old, so we've learned that you've got to embrace it, be open about it and have conversations about it — because it is going to be electrifying for both of our teams. Really it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and this is a rivalry that has traditions for years and years back, so it's almost going to be a college-like atmosphere. Rather than not talk about it, we're going to embrace it and get comfortable with it."
Okimoto: "Thank God this historic game is finally going to happen. I've made many many sacrifices in the last 21 years of coaching and my four years of playing here at Farrington. The biggest and most recent sacrifice is as I walk in my house when I get home and my three-year-old son doesn't want to talk to his dad because he's wondering, 'where have you been?' So having this historic game is special because one day my three-year-old son and my daughter will understand the sacrifices their dad and all those who labored to help make this day happen. And let me just say a huge mahalo to all the people who made this day happen."
SL: What are your thoughts on your opponent this week?
Maafala: "In looking at some film on them from last year and this year as well, the number one thing that bounces off the film is that Farrington is a very physical football team. They have a very different look from last year as far as skill wise and skill set, but coach Okimoto has done a good job of taking what he has and putting together a really, really good scheme. My biggest challenge to our team is to be physical. It's a big-time game. Farrington has all of Kalihi riding on their shoulders, so they're playing for a lot of pride. We expect a great ball game and great competition."
Okimoto: "I can't think of a better matchup than Farrington versus Kamehameha. They have always been a team that has been competitive and that's definitely the case now with coach Abu Maafala and his staff."
SL: Complete the sentence: We will win Friday if …
Maafala: "Number one, we're physical, and number two, we execute fundamentals and technique and minimize mistakes. If we can do that, we position ourselves to go in and win the football game, but most importantly, we have to stick together as a team. It is a road game for us, in a hostile environment, so we have to stick together come what may."
Okimoto: "For us, i don't really want to focus on winning as much as paying attention to the detail of our assignments and that, for me, is what we need to improve on or master."
Kamehameha has won 36 of its 56 meetings against Farrington, including a 38-3 victory in their last meeting in 2013. The series dates back to 1938.
When both teams were members of the ILH (until 1969), the Warriors won 23 of 37 showdowns. The teams played twice in 1965, when Kamehameha won the regular-season meeting, 25-6, but lost to Farrington in the ILH championship, 16-6.
Kickoff between the Warriors and Governors Friday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
ScoringLive reporter Stacy Kaneshiro contributed to this report.
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