KAHULUI - Curtis Lee is long gone and so are the good times for Maui High School football.
Lee left the head coaching position for the Sabers in 2004 as the winningest current high school coach in the state, and he took eight Maui Interscholastic League titles in 21 seasons with him.
Since Lee's departure, Maui High is 7-50-1, and in the last five-plus years, the numbers are 4-42-1 with two winless seasons in the mix.
Maui High safety Siueli Vaha was the Sabers’ lone Maui Interscholastic League first-team All-Star selection last season, when his team posted a 1-8 record, 0-8 in MIL play.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
The fourth coach since the Lee era ended, David Bui, has stepped up from a successful run as the junior varsity head coach and if the crisp practices he has been running are any indication, the Sabers appear ready to get better.
"Things are positive," Bui said. "We had a strong offseason and our turnout is pretty good this year. We like the kids' attitude, I think we will be OK."
The Sabers have a varsity roster of 44, although eight players missed their 21-7 nonleague loss to Waiakea on Saturday with injuries, a defeat that ran the team's current losing streak to nine. Maui High did pull off a rare feat for August with no players on academic probation.
SABERS AT A GLANCE
Returning starters-2 offense, 3 defense
2010 record-1-8 (0-8 MIL)
Saturday, Aug. 20-Waiakea 21, Maui High 7.
Saturday-vs. Kamehameha Maui at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10-vs. King Kekaulike at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16-vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23-vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8-at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22-vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29-vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Nov. 5-at Kamehameha Maui, 3 p.m.
The Sabers, whose only win in 2010 was a 33-0 decision over Waiakea, open MIL play against Kamehameha Maui this Saturday, when they will be looking to break a 15-game league losing streak. After that comes a bye.
"We have the second-week bye and that is good for us, maybe we can heal up," Bui said.
Bui looks around and sees athletes Siueli Vaha, a two-time MIL All-Star safety and the team's only first-team pick last season, and Brayden Waikiki ready to line up as quarterbacks. Vaha got the nod at quarterback in Hilo as his fellow senior was slightly banged up.
Last season, Maui High scored 28 points in eight league games, while giving up a league-worst 314.
"We want to play to the strength of our players," Bui said. "Our offense really depends on who is our quarterback and the competition is still on. With Siueli, we are going to spread it out and try to give him some running room, but he can also throw."
Bui said Waikiki "hasn't played in a few years, but he has a great attitude, he is learning the offense and he can get the job done - both quarterbacks are really coachable."
The versatile Vaha will see other positions on offense as well.
"He can play running back, receiver, he plays safety, linebacker, he will be our utility guy," Bui said of Vaha. "We can use him anywhere."
The Sabers are almost completely new with just eight returnees from last season's 1-8 team.
"This year has improved a lot, new coaches, they are getting us back on track, discipline, everything," Vaha said. "I think we are ready. We are in good condition, we have been practicing hard."
Vaha has played quarterback only sparingly since his Pop Warner days.
"Not much," he said. "I sometimes go in for running plays and that is about it, but I am going to go out and do my best."
Vaha, a 6-foot-2, 204-pounder, has been a part of three wins in two seasons on the Saber varsity. Despite that, Weber State has shown interest in his college services.
"It has been hard, but I am going to try my best to try to get some wins for my school this year," he said. "This team is way more talented than we have been, new kids coming from all kinds of schools and we are more disciplined this year."
Bui added, "Our priority is character development. The 44 kids who are here are 44 committed kids. We are happy with that and we can work with that."
Totauhe Lotulelei, an MIL honorable mention selection last season, scored the Sabers' lone touchdown Saturday against Waiakea on a 1-yard run in the first quarter.
Lotulelei, a 6-0, 205-pound running back/linebacker, said the Sabers' attitude has changed immensely.
"We train harder than the past two years that I have been playing and we have way more new stuff to run," he said. "Attitude, discipline. When we have to run a lot the players just run it, they don't complain or anything, they just do what the coaches ask. I think this year is going to be a change, a big change. We just have heart and that has been missing."
Former Saber standout Kamaloni Vainikolo has returned from a career at Utah State to help coach two of his younger brothers, Atu and Moana Vainikolo, both freshmen defensive linemen. Keith Machida has moved with Bui from the JV to coach the offensive line, Keith Shirota is the defensive coordinator and Bui is the offensive coordinator.
"It is a new team, new players, everything is new," Bui said. "As far as we were concerned there were no returnees, everyone had to earn their stripes with us."
Bui sees a chase in the MIL between all four teams behind six-time defending champion Baldwin.
"Obviously it has got to be the defending champs, it has got to be Baldwin," Bui said of the league favorite. "After that everybody is kind of wide open in this league."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org