At 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 150 pounds, Kealakehe’s Lennox Jones was asked to shoulder a big offensive load in a brutal and punishing sport.
Meanwhile, Hilo’s Drew Kell was tasked with turning around a football team that hadn’t won a game the previous season.
They both beat the odds, and Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I coaches recognized them for their achievements by naming them co-Offensive Players of the Year.
Jones is believed to be the first BIIF player to lead his team in both rushing and receiving yards, having run for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 31 passes for 483 yards and four scores this season for a Waveriders squad that went 10-2 and won its third straight BIIF Division I title.
Kell, quarterbacking a team that went 0-10 last season, completed 55 percent of his passes (116 of 213) for 1,305 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Along the way, the junior threw for 405 yards in a 43-29 loss at Kealakehe on Sept. 15, becoming the first BIIF quarterback to throw for 400 yards in five years.
More importantly, Kell helped turn the Vikings around, leading them to the Division I championship game and a 7-3 overall record.
“It means a lot to me,” Kell said of the honor. “Growing up I always dreamed of being one of the top players in the BIIF.”
Hilo coach David Baldwin said Kell has a chance to become the Big Island’s version of Marcus Mariota, a Saint Louis graduate who has flourished as a redshirt freshman at the University of Oregon this season.
“(Kell’s) greatest attribute is his character,” said Baldwin, who earned BIIF Division I Coach of the Year honors. “When he matches that with his football IQ and savvy, that helps turn the program over as far as wins and losses.
“He’s a tremendous athlete. His grasp of the offensive system is incredible. But we truly haven’t seen his full potential yet.”
Kell isn’t resting on his laurels.
He acknowledged the Vikings’ improvement but showed no signs of satisfaction.
“Even though we had a great turnaround, we wanted more out of (the season),” Kell said. “There’s always room to get better.”
Jones expected a close vote between he and Kell for Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Before making the varsity team last year, Jones said, he watched other great Kealakehe players such as Peni Vea, Jacob Ontiveros and Tyler Yates and aspired to stand out as they did.
Coming into the season, Jones had received playing time at wide receiver in 2011, and he expected more of the same this season. But Papalii, seeing the quickness and elusiveness that allowed Jones to shed would-be tackles, had other plans.
Jones also played on special teams, and Kealakehe coach Sam Papalii said the senior’s relentless determination earned him the title of best “pound-for-pound” player ever at Kealakehe.
“His motor never stops,” Papalii said. “Unless he’s injured, that motor never stops.”
Papalii said Jones played with a chip on his shoulder every time he stepped on the field because the senior sensed opponents didn’t expect much out of a player with his size.
The Kealakehe coach was right.
“They’re probably thinking, ‘What’s this little guy doing here?’” Jones said.
“I don’t think you can judge somebody by their size. If you can play that’s the main thing.”
Jones was one of four Kealakehe players who earned first-team All-BIIF honors on offense.
The other three, offensive linemen Feke Sopoaga-Kioa, Tui Eli and Prince Samoa, were part of a beefy offensive line that opened up gaping holes for Jones and other Kealakehe running backs.
Papalii expressed some disappointment over linemen Siosaia Kalavi and Giovanni Chanes-Rodriguez not making the first team because they assumed the main blocking assignments when Kealakehe ran its highly successful misdirection plays in which Jones took handoffs from the slot receiver position.
Senior linebacker Manase Hungalu, who earned BIIF Division I Defensive Player of the Year honors, led a group of six Waveriders on the first team.
Hungalu, who amassed 98 total tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and three passes defensed, called the award an honor but expected one of his teammates to receive it.
“I thought the reigning Defensive Player of the Year was going to get it,” Hungalu said, referring to senior Kyler O’Halloran, who collected 155 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and 11 passes defensed.
Instead, O’Halloran earned honorable mention honors.
Others first-team All-BIIF Waverider defenders included junior defensive lineman Travis Lualemaga (55 tackles, team-high seven sacks), senior defensive lineman Loto Mareko and senior defensive backs Giuseppi Zapataoliva, Kainoa Kipapa and Keoni Schweitzer.
Kell was one of nine Vikings on the first team. Six are juniors, including stout junior linebacker Sione Holika and junior defensive lineman Isi Holani. Another, running back/wide receiver Donovan Kelley, is only a sophomore, giving Hilo a bright future.
Senior wide receiver Dayton Kiko, who caught nine touchdown passes, and hard-hitting linebacker Taz Preston led a group of five Waiakea players on the first team.
Konawaena, which won its second straight football championship, collected the top honors in the Division II voting.
John Kamoku claimed Offensive Player of the Year honors after rushing for 1,090 yards and 22 touchdowns on just 112 carries — an average of 9.7 yards per carry.
When friends informed the senior of the award, Kamoku came away surprised because he expected junior quarterback Lii Karrattti to claim the honor.
Karratti, who made the first team as a quarterback, completed 109 of 202 passes for 2,939 yards with 42 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Kamoku, who plans on playing football in college, said he can using the award as a recruiting tool.
“I can put that on my resume,” Kamoku said. “It will show the other coaches that this guy is good.”
Senior wideouts Domonic Morris and Kenan Gaspar, and senior offensive Laimana Grace also made the first-team offense.
Morris caught 36 passes for 841 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Gaspar hauled in 32 receptions for 771 yards and 10 TDs.
Senior running back Shaun Kagawa, who has attracted interest from a handful of Division I programs, led a group of four Kamehameha-Hawaii players on the first-team offense, while senior running back Justen Kawamoto (941 rushing yards) and senior linemen Elrey Tupe and Triton Reich represented a Honokaa team that thrived running the football.
Hawaii Prep’s Jordan Hayslip earned Coach of the Year honors after Ka Makani, which graduated a handful of collegiate players from the previous season, finished 6-4 in league play. However, coaches did not make junior running back Bobby Lum, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards, a first-team pick.
On the other side of the ball, Konawaena’s Mikey Rabara earned Defensive Player of the Year honors for a Wildcats unit that allowed just two touchdowns in the team’s first eight league games.
“It’s such an honor,” Rabara said. “I didn’t know how many tackles I had, but the coaches saw the heart. I took pride in leading the defense. I just had that pride of being a leader.”
Gaspar joined Rabara on the first-team defense as a defensive back along with Wildcats senior defensive end Chayne Bohol and sophomore defensive tackle Makoa Chapa.
Another two-way first-team selection, Kagawa, made the unit as a defensive back, joining three other Warriors: relentless junior defensive tackle Timmy Burke, senior linebacker Jaston Eleneki and senior defensive lineman Kaipo Woolsey.
Senior defensive end Eigoro Akai, who consistently applied pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and junior defensive back Blake Hooser, also a dynamic return specialist, made the first team for HPA.