It’s easy to spot Jayla Medeiros or Jason Alani at the annual NFL Punt, Pass and Kick contests. Yes, they may be previous national champions, but they also carry themselves humbly and with confidence, and open eyes with their impressive performances.
On a wet, slippery Saturday morning at Panaewa Park, Medeiros and Alani and were among the 45 contestants who participated in the state contest. The winners from the five boys age groups and five girls age groups are eligible to compete in the Team Championships on Dec. 2 at Qualcomm Stadium, in conjunction with a game between the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers.
“There will be six sectional contests held on the mainland this coming week and the Hawaii winners will compete against those winners to decide who is invited to San Diego,” local coordinator Brenda Kuamoo said. “The top four scores in each age group from all the sectionals will get the chance to advance. And if they win in San Diego, they’ll qualify for the national contest.”
Medeiros, age 11, is a two-time national champion, having won in the 8-9 age group in 2012 and the 6-7 division in 2011. On Saturday, she captured the state’s 10-11 title with a 231-foot, 6-inch total despite the slippery conditions. She punted the football 51 feet, passed it 102-3 feet, and place-kicked the ball 78-3 feet. She went unopposed in the final but needed a high total to improve her chances of qualifying for the trip to San Diego.
“I was kind of nervous going into the contest,” Medeiros said. “I saw a couple of boys fall down during their attempts. So I tried to focus and watch my steps. I’m glad I won, that was my goal.”
As the young Jayla stepped up to punt, her mom, Laressa, proudly watched from the side while her dad, Jacob, helped Kuamoo and other volunteers measure the distances of the punts, passes and kicks.
“Jayla’s quiet, not real emotional — she handles pressure well,” Laressa said. “She feels more pressure from her brother (Jaimison) because they’re both competitive.”
Jayla seemed relaxed when it came to her turn, looking fresh from a nap on the family’s early-morning drive from Kailua-Kona and energized by a bento from Cuzins in Hilo.
“She seemed to like everything in the bento, especially the chicken,” her mother said.
Besides Jayla and Jaimison, other siblings include Jayssa Grace, a junior at Konawaena and member of the Wildcats’ state Division II champion volleyball team; and Jaimin, 7, who also plays for the Kona Marlins Pop Warner football program along with Jayla and Jaimison.
Jayla, not surprisingly, plays quarterback for the Marlins.
“Jayla started playing football at age 8,” Laressa said. “I was coaching softball and one day when she didn’t show up, I finally tracked her down on the football field. She was playing flag football. I wanted her to play softball, but she told me ‘the girls are boring, I’d rather play football.’
“From that point on, she played football, although she has taken judo for the past two months.”
Father Jacob played football for Konawaena High, under coaches Jim Barry and Bob Fitzgerald, graduating in 1992. With Barry and Fitzgerald leading the way, the Wildcats had an impressive string of championships during the 1980s and ’90s.
“This is for the kids,” Jacob said. “Last year when we went up to the mainland for the competition, there were nine kids from Hawaii competing. And everybody knew they were from Hawaii because they always stuck together.”
Leivanelle Kaupu, Jason’s Alani’s godmom who brought the talented youngster to Saturday’s event, agreed.
Jason’s parents, Jason Sr. and Traci, weren’t able to make it to Hilo, but they hope to join their son in San Diego after he finished first in his 10-11 age group Saturday. He had a 283-4 total, including a superb 117-foot spiral that brought some oohs and aahs from the onlookers.
“When we go up, we go as a whole family,” Kaupu said. “We meet there and help take care of each other.”
Last year, both Jason and brother Jarom, 8, competed in the contest in San Diego.
Once the top four individuals in each age group are officially invited to the Team Championships, their families must raise money for the trip. For a family of three, it might approach $5,000.
“The NFL only pays for the winners to go to the nationals,” Grace said.
Before competing against his 11-player age group Saturday, Alani, like Jayla Medeiros, relaxed and warmed up on the side, or showed support for the other competitors. But when it was his turn to step up and perform, he delivered with a punt of 90-7 feet, his terrific spiral pass and a 75-9 place-kick. His overall point total was almost 100 feet farther than his age group’s runner-up.
“I’m excited to compete,” Alani said before his performance. “I want to do my best.”
Except for rain in the first hour and a slippery, muddy spot near the line to punt, pass and kick, the day moved along quickly. Two boys slipped and fell hard after kicks, and both jumped up and seemed to recover quickly.
Contestants from around the Big Island traveled to test their skills and the winners’ list included athletes from Kohala, Kona, Waiakea and Puna.
The state final included 11 contests that Kuamoo coordinated on the Big Island since the first week of September.
“We had over 350 youngsters take part this year,” she said. “We didn’t have any contests on the other islands, but we did have some outer-island contestants participate in the Big Island events.”
Full Punt,Pass and Kick Results
Saturday at Panaewa Park
c 6-7 age group: 1. Leyton Neves, Kohala, 110-7; 2. Caleb Breihaupt, Ka’u, 104-4; 3. Jason Mandaquit, Hilo, 101.
c 8-9: 1. Nalukea Kamakea, Waiakea, 186-3; 2. Kamaehu Makanui, Kona, 160-7; 3. Wailele Kane-Yates, Hilo, 152.
c 10-11: 1. Jason Alani, Kona, 283.4; 2. Kuhao Kane, Kohala, 184.4; 3. Kilohana Haasenritter, Hilo, 180-5.
c 12-13: 1. Kelsan Caculidious, Kohala, 277.6; 2. Kanaipono Kahala-Giron, Keaukaha, 217.5; 3. Chriatian Mamone, Hilo, 190.1.
c 14-15: 1. Feleipe Ruval, Kohala, 378.3; 2. Jamal Buyuan, Ka’u, 353.5; 3. Gus Morante, Hilo, 283.4.
c 6-7: No contestants.
c 8-9: 1. Kanoe Piltz, Kona, 107. Only contestant.
c 10-11: 1. Jayla Medeiros, Kona, 231-6. Only contestant.
c 12-13: Staycia Hoomana, Puna, 114-11.
c 14-15: Laulei Matafa, Maui, did not compete but qualified with previous point total.