PUKALANI - Kyle Sanches landed right where he wanted to be on Friday.
Sanches, 34, was named the head football coach at King Kekaulike High School, the sixth man to hold the position since the Upcountry school opened in 1995.
"I'm excited, it's very exciting," Sanches said moments after meeting with returning players on campus during Friday's lunch break. "I think it's a real good opportunity. This is my home, this is where I'm from. I'm an Upcountry kid, so the idea of coaching Upcountry and being a part of this program, and this turnaround, it is very exciting."
KYLE SANCHES, named King Kekaulike head football coach
Na Alii have a 4-20 record in the Maui Interscholastic League and 5-22 overall mark in the last three seasons - they were 1-8 overall (1-7 MIL) under Clarence Rivers, a veteran assistant who coached the team in 2012 on a one-year basis.
"We have had some struggles as of late," said Sanches, who is a study skills teacher for 6th- and 7th-graders at Maui Waena. "That is something we have to rectify, we have to change the culture up here - not only make sure winning is a priority, but make sure these kids are on the right path to graduate, and hopefully to get an opportunity at the next level."
Sanches, a 1996 Baldwin High graduate who played collegiately at Montana-Western, coached at Merced (Calif.) Community College and a couple of Mainland high schools before returning to Maui last year. He was the defensive coordinator for Kekaulike in 2012.
King Kekaulike athletic director P.K. Higa said a search committee selected Sanchez out of a pool of just under 10.
"We had some great candidates," Higa said. "Obviously with Kyle being the selection kind of shows who we had to choose from. We are very excited about it, he's an Upcountry kid, probably would have attended here if it was here when he was going to school. The experience that he brings is just tremendous.
"If he can get the staff done, some of the prior staff members that he will be talking to, he can retain them, and this program can move forward a lot sooner than later."
Sanches said he will most likely continue running a spread offense and a defense that ranges from a 3-3 base to a 3-5-3 formation. The league's leading passer in 2012, Ryley Widell, will be a junior in the fall.
"We are an athlete-driven school," Sanches said. "We don't have a lot of the bigs that some of the other schools have, so we are going to have to play to our strengths."
Sanches said he has already retained Saa Foster and Sean Higuchi from the previous staff.
Sanches' father, Garry, is the longtime Baldwin track coach who guided the Bears to their first boys team title in that sport in May.
"Honestly, I think he was excited," Kyle Sanches said. "You know my old man, he doesn't get too excited about anything. He was for it."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com