PUKALANI - Kevin O'Brien had a goal in his first season as head coach at Kamehameha Schools Maui last year - setting a foundation for the future.
"I think to a degree, there is a learning curve," O'Brien said of getting that No. 1 priority in place in last season's 5-4 campaign, the school's first winning record ever in its seventh year of varsity football. "One of my goals was to become a physically stronger and more physical team. I think last year's team really tried hard to do that. Last year, we had a senior-heavy team, they had a sense of urgency, they saw the finish line, they hadn't had much success.
"My getting hired was something they could rally around and get excited about. Not because of me, because it was something new - I want to make that clear. . . . Any time there is a change makes it exciting."
Kamehameha Schools Maui’s Daylan Machado ranked fifth in the MIL last season with 15 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
With O'Brien's multiple-set offense in place along with Anthony Perry's defense, the team made strides with a 4-4 Maui Interscholastic League mark and team statistics that placed it directly in the middle of the five-team league.
Kamehameha Maui's 230.9 yards per game generated offensively was third behind Lahainaluna and Baldwin, and the Warriors' 216.4 yards per game given up defensively also ranked third.
With last year as a base, O'Brien said there is still work to do. That point was hammered home in a 36-0 loss to Kapaa at Vidinha Stadium last week, Kamehameha's only nonleague game.
WARRIORS AT A GLANCE
Returning starters-2 offense, 3 defense
2010 record-5-4 (4-4 MIL)
Aug. 19-Kapaa 36, Kamehameha Maui 0.
Saturday-vs. Maui High at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 3-vs. King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9-vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24-vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7-vs. Baldwin, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15-vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28-at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.
Nov. 5-vs. Maui High, 3 p.m.
"I think there are still some kids at this school - and not just in football - I think our entire athletic department has got to get stronger, has got to get physically stronger, every single sport," O'Brien said. "From football to cheerleading, from volleyball to boys cross country - everybody has got to get stronger at our school if we want to be more competitive."
Last season's winning record stands as an example of what can happen.
"That was an accomplishment that that team earned, and to their credit they worked hard," O'Brien said. "There's only one first time for something like that and those kids earned it."
This season, the Warriors have just 14 seniors, but several of them are impact players. Daylan Machado finished fifth on the MIL receiving list last season with 15 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns for the second-best passing attack in the league, but quarterback Bryson Souza graduated, leaving the signal-calling duties to juniors Kalai Yap and Ryan Graham in the Kapaa game.
Machado was a second-team MIL All-Star last season and one of two starters back for the offense. The defense is led by seniors Jordan Nauka and Pono Freitas, both defensive backs, and linebackers Ken Kanemitsu and Alika Sanchez.
The Kamehameha defense was vulnerable to the run last season, surrendering a league-worst 1,276 yards. Against the pass, it gave up just 455 yards, the second-best mark in the MIL.
The summer workouts went well for some, not so well for others, O'Brien said.
"There were some of the kids who did a great job," he said. "Again, it is a logistical problem when you are not a centrally located school and you have kids from all over the island. It is difficult to say, 'You either show up and lift or you're off the team' to some kid who lives in Lahaina and has no way to get here. You can't do that at this school. I saw some individual efforts that I was very impressed with. Would I have liked to see more from the team? Of course I would have, absolutely."
With only five returning starters, O'Brien said there are a lot of spots to be filled.
"What I'm thinking is there's a lot of opportunities for players this year to step up," he said. "There is an abundance of opportunities and anybody who wants to take advantage of that opportunity, I am going to be very excited."
O'Brien watched his team run through a scrimmage against a team from British Columbia last week and was encouraged.
"I was very happy with how hard we competed, but we were very rough around the edges and had a lot to work on," he said.
He pointed to the linebackers as a definite bright spot.
"I think the strength of this team is going to be the linebacker corps," O'Brien said. "They are not big, but there's a lot of them and they can flat out run."
O'Brien added that team speed is "above average" and team size is "below average."
Just 10 of the 45 players on the roster are listed at more than 200 pounds, while 21 are 160 pounds or less.
Like last year, O'Brien declined to single out any players by name.
"My philosophy there is that the team is the most important thing and we are all going to work to make the team and the program better," he said. "I think that whatever your role is, from the alpha male best player down to the role player who works really hard in practice, every one of those guys has value. The guy who scores the touchdown gets his name in the paper, but the five or six or maybe even seven or eight guys who block up in front of him don't always. So, I want to respect the work that everybody does."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.