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Prep Football Preview Special
Prep Football Preview
Game of the Week
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveMay 30, 2020, 5:47pm
With an abbreviated spring sports season and the 2019-'20 school year now behind us, fans of prep sports are turning our collective attention — and hopes — to the gridiron.
Football is king in Hawaii, as evidenced by the well-attended games statewide on most Friday and Saturday nights in the fall, and with any luck we'll be back to that familiar routine soon enough.
When the games do start up, here are a few players (listed in alphabetical order) that you'll want to keep an eye on during the 2020 football season.
As legendary of a coach that Ron Lee is, he knows you can't coach up size. Not that he would need to do so with Ellis.
Ellis, a senior-to-be on the Saint Louis football team, has more than enough size. The All-Hawaii Open Division First Team offensive lineman checks in at a behemoth 355 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. But it's not just that he's a big kid.
"You just don't get guys that size that can move," said Lee, who assumed the reins of Crusaders' head coach from his brother, Cal, earlier this year.
"He's solid. From his toes to his head, he's solid. You just don't find guys like that in high school — and he's young, too. He just made 16 (years old). I think he's big time," Lee added.
He's not the only one.
Ellis has drawn scholarship offers from Hawaii, Syracuse and Virginia. Surely, there will be more to come.
"He went against (Notre Dame linebacker) Jordan Botelho and (Wisconsin linebacker) Nick Herbig every day in practice last year and in games he went against guys like (former Mililani and current Oregon State defensive end) Shane Kady and the kid from St. Thomas Aquinas (Florida-commit Tyreak Sapp) and he really played well against those guys. In fact, that's why (Syracuse offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh) offered him," Lee said.
As a junior in 2019, Ellis served as the left tackle and blindside protector for quarterback Jayden de Laura. Lee noted that for the upcoming season, Ellis may move to guard, where he is expected to play at the collegiate level.
"He's very athletic and moves well. He plays basketball, so for a big guy like that, he moves really well," Lee said.
Ellis also competes in the discus throw and shot put for the Saint Louis track and field team.
"We've had some good linemen, but Ellis is definitely in a class by himself," Lee said. "Now he's still gotta work hard, but he knows what he has to do and I think this kid is the best offensive lineman we've had for a long, long time."
To be sure, the ‘eye test' is one standard of measure that Friel passes every time.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound quarterback is, as his coach points out, a "prototype quarterback," but the Kailua senior-to-be is out to prove that there's more to him than meets the eye.
"He's a legit 6-4 and a lot of 6-4 guys aren't athletic like he is," Surfriders coach Hauoli Wong said of Friel. "He has moves, he can run, he has speed to get away from defenders and he's only gonna get stronger and better this year and on to the next level."
The next level for Friel will take him to the desert. In a recent tweet, he revealed a verbal commitment to UNLV, which hired former Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo back in December.
It is the first head coaching job for Arroyo, a former quarterback at San Jose State. He has had coaching stints at Wyoming, Cal, Southern Miss and Oklahoma State among other schools, and with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"It's an exciting time for UNLV football with coach Arroyo and his guys," Wong said.
Friel also has scholarship offers from Arizona, Navy, Nevada, San Diego State and Fresno State.
However, before he can look to the future, Friel is focused on the now with his final high school season in the coming months. He will certainly look to improve upon his numbers from 2019, when he completed 49.8 percent of his passes and was intercepted 14 times. In his first full season with Kailua after transferring from Saint Louis, Friel threw for 1,686 yards and 20 touchdowns. He earned All-Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I Second Team honors.
"I think last year he just showed a little glimpse and just scratched the surface of the kind of potential he has as a quarterback," Wong said. "He was still learning the system and getting used to being a full-time starter because he had started a few games on JV at Saint Louis, but they were rotating at quarterback. (Since then) he's grown by leaps and bounds."
Kailua is coming off of a 4-7 record in 2019, including a 3-4 mark in league play. It finished fourth in the OIA Division I standings and saw its season end with a 21-14 loss to eventual-league champ Moanalua in the semifinals of the OIA tournament.
Wong has reason to be optimistic about the Surfriders' prospects this fall with a projected eight starters returning on both defense and offense, led by Friel, of course.
"Eighty-five to ninety percent of our starters were all underclassmen —sophomores and juniors — so the nucleus of our team was young," Wong said. "(Friel) does have a burden, because you want your second season not to be a fluke, so he'll be ready to go."
The Hilo defensive lineman has proven to be a quick study since picking up the sport as a freshman in 2018. Kaniaupio, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound nose tackle, will be a junior and third-year varsity player in 2020. As a sophomore last year he posted 14 1/2 tackles for loss and four sacks to earn a spot on the All-Hawaii Division I First Team defense. The Vikings held opponents to a meager 6.3 points per game on their way to a perfect 14-0 record in 2019 and their second state championship in three years.
"Last year he was primarily playing at nose tackle for us and became that two-gap defender for us. He did a good job in the middle of the defense for us," said Lave Siuaunoa, who was promoted to head coach in late April following the departure of Kaeo Drummondo.
Prior to ascending to the top job, Siuaunoa served as Kaniaupio's position coach on the defensive line.
"Tysen's developed fast as far as understanding the game and last year he picked up the leadership part from guys like (departed seniors) Kalen White, Kainalu Lewis, Joshua Niro and Kayden Alameda, so coming into this year I feel that we could possibly give Tysen a little bit more on his plate to play some three-technique or possibly even at (defensive) end for us," Siuaunoa said.
Despite Kaniaupio's size — and Siuaunoa cautions that the young man is "still growing" — he is actually quite fleet of foot.
"He also plays soccer so he has good feet as far as directional movement and he plays goalie so that's helped him a lot," Siuaunoa said. "He has a low center of gravity and a lot of strength, so it's easy for him to take on those two gaps. We expect him to come up with maturity this year and possibly be one of our captains, one of our leaders this year."
Siuaunoa said that Kaniaupio will likely see some time on offense as well this season, at either tackle or guard.
At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Mendiola-Jensen is indeed a rare breed of defensive back.
The Punahou cornerback made quite the impression as a first-year starter in 2019. The junior recorded three interceptions on his way to honorable mention recognition on both the All-Interscholastic League of Honolulu and All-Hawaii teams.
"First of all he's just a great kid overall, great student that not only does well on the football field, but also in the classroom," Buffanblu interim coach Leonard Lau said. "He's also a great teammate, he gets along well with everybody, he's a great leader on the defensive line of the ball and he's just a great student-athlete."
As far as defensive backs go, Mendiola-Jensen possesses a rare combination of length, quickness and instincts.
"Being 6-2 and 173 pounds and playing corner, that's pretty special because you don't typically see that kind of height at that position," Lau said. "He's kind of a long corner, but he moves well for his size. He's very explosive, very quick, he's a very good one-on-one cover guy — he can probably run with anybody in high school — but he also has great ball skills as far as going up and high-pointing the football when it's in the air."
Lau was the team's offensive coordinator last year, which afforded him many opportunities to gain an appreciate for Mendiola-Jensen's versatility against his unit in practices.
"He can also hit, he's very aggressive, very tough and he can come down and play in the box behind the line of scrimmage, too," Lau said. "He's just a very well-rounded defensive back that can play the pass, as well as the run and be a great leader. He was a big surprise for us this past year at corner because he ended up being very dependable. We pretty much knew he had his size of the field pretty much locked down and covered."
With the graduation of Stanford-bound safety Alakai Gilman and Jarrin Sato, who started as the opposite corner, much of the onus will be on Mendiola-Jensen as well as fellow senior-to-be Jonah Henry to provide the leadership for the group in 2020.
"He's going to have to be one of the leaders like Alakai was for us last year, which means he have to play a little bit of both safety and corner for us, just depending on what the younger players can do for us. We may have to see him do a little bit more and be a little bit more versatile, using not only his skillset, but also his leadership," Lau said.
Mendiola-Jensen, who also competes in basketball and track and field for Punahou, has drawn eight scholarship offers, including Army, Navy, UNLV, Utah State, Central Michigan and San Diego State.
"I'm not surprised with these opportunities he's receiving because he's worked hard," Lau said. "I'm very happy for him. He's put in time after practices to work on his craft since he was a freshman and I'm just happy that his hard work is paying off."
Given what Moananu did in 2019, the Bulldogs' two-way standout will be sure to draw lots of attention from opposing teams in the fall.
In addition to being named All-Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II Offensive Player of the Year, Moananu picked up All-Hawaii First Team honors at both wide receiver and defensive back.
"What makes him special is his understanding of the game. A lot of things come to him easy. The game is slow for him," Kaimuki coach David Tautofi said.
Moananu led all of D2 with 65 catches for 1,184 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also had eight interceptions on defense to help the Bulldogs to a 10-3 record, including a league championship and state tournament appearance.
Tautofi said Moananu hit a "growth spurt in maturity from his sophomore year to last year.
"It was day and night. What happened in that one year usually takes two years in most kids, so to have him coming back is probably one of the biggest blessings and it's going to be a big impact for us this year," Tautofi said.
Another boost for the Bulldogs is the return of junior quarterback Jayden Maiava, who also earned First Team All-Hawaii honors a season ago. Maiava had moved to Las Vegas and was enrolled in school there, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit he returned to Hawaii and has since opted to return to Kaimuki, Tautofi said.
"I think it's gonna be a huge impact on Koby, for Jayden to be back and to have that chemistry that was built from a season ago; I think they got a glimpse last year of what a lot of things could be this year and more, so we're just looking forward to that coming back," Tautofi said. "Two of our biggest keys are Jayden and Koby."
When, or if, a prep football season finally gets underway this fall, one thing will be an absolute: Moananu will definitely not be under-utilized.
"On both sides of the ball he brings great value to us. Where we can rest him we will, but we try to build them into the expectation of not getting much rest at all. They just know what they have to do once the ball kicks off," Tautofi said. "Hands down, he's a first-teamer, all-state guy, I think regardless of division."
Moananu was a right-handed pitcher and infielder on the baseball team this spring and led the boys basketball team in scoring with 10.8 points per game during the winter season.
"If I was to compare him to an NBA star, he would be a Kawhi Leonard-type of player," Tautofi said of the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Moananu. "He's quiet, but he's always carried himself as a leader on the team, knowing what he's set out to do.
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