A group of 11 Kealakehe seniors will play football at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif., next fall. Front row, from left: Kainoa Kipapa, Lennox Jones, Cyruss Cho and Vincent Paogofie. Back row, from left: Cordell Waahila, Siosaia Kalavi, Joshua Dawrs, Giovanni Chanes-Rodrigues, Jerone Moeoge and Maake Teutau. Not pictured: Prince Samoa. (Submitted photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)
The way Sam Papalii sees it, College of the Redwoods offensive coordinator Matt Tomlin had one simple question in mind when he scanned Hawaii high school football rosters in search of future players: Where’s the beef?
The Hawaiian islands offered Tomlin what he needed — and a whole lot more.
Eleven Kealakehe seniors — Lennox Jones, Kainoa Kipapa, Cyruss Cho, Vincent Paogofie, Maake Teutau, Prince Samoa, Siosaia Kalavi, Joshua Dawrs, Giovanni Chanes-Rodrigues, Jerone Moeoge and Cordell Waahila — have committed to play football at College of the Redwoods, a junior college in Eureka, Calif.
Tomlin also landed two other Big Island high school seniors in Konawaena’s John Kamoku and Honokaa’s Kainoa Lyman, and two high school graduates in Honokaa’s Bob Uesi (2011) and Kealakehe’s Austin Sauer (2010).
In Jones and Kamoku, Tomlin reeled in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I co-Offensive Player of the Year and the BIIF Division II Offensive Player of the Year, respectively.
Jones racked up 1,120 rushing yards and 483 receiving yards, scoring 15 touchdowns for a Waverider team that won its third straight BIIF Division I crown. Kamoku ran for 1,090 yards and 22 touchdowns for a Wildcats team that repeated its BIIF Division II title.
“We think (Kamoku) can fit that power running back role, and Lennox will be the slotback, and they can work well together,’’ Tomlin said.
The Redwoods assistant coach raved about both athletes’ big-play ability, but he was just as happy about adding size to a Corsair team that desperately needed it.
Tomlin phoned Papalii at the beginning of the high school football season, informing the Kealakehe coach that Redwoods was intent on recruiting players from Hawaii. After the conversation, Papalii sent him a list of his seniors, and the two exchanged emails throughout the season as Tomlin looked at video of Kealakehe games online at sportzviz.com.
But Papalii remembers one item on Tomlin’s to-do list when the two first spoke to each other.
“(Tomlin) said, ‘We see a lot of beef on your team, and we want the beef,’’’ Papalii said.
That’s understandable considering Redwoods will return just five players listed at 250 pounds or more — none at 300 pounds.
The beef Tomlin wanted from Kealakehe comes in the form of five imposing offensive linemen: Waahila (6-foot-4, 395 pounds), Kalavi (6-5, 335), Samoa (6-0, 300), Dawrs (6-3, 291) and Chanes-Rodrigues (6-1, 270).
Last season, Redwoods, a member of the Bay Valley Conference, went 3-7 but played better than its record indicated, Tomlin said. The Corsairs lost two games by a point — including a late regular-season game against eventual champion Contra Costa College — and another by two points.
“It just showed how close we were to turning the corner and being a powerhouse in our conference,’’ Tomlin said.
The missing ingredient: a presence in the trenches.
Tomlin called Samoa, a first-team All-BIIF selection, the “No. 1 guy on my board.” He plans on using Moeoge (6-2, 345) and Teutau (6-0, 225) on the defensive line.
“Definitely, our weakness was size and strength on the offensive and defensive lines,’’ Tomlin said.
By addressing that need, Tomlin hopes for a big season from Corsair quarterback Ronn Schrufer, a 6-6, 240-pound Alaska native who has attracted plenty of attention from Division I schools.
“These kids (from Hawaii) will get to play with him, and it will open up their visibility,” said Tomlin, who also landed four players from Kahuku, three from Waianae and two each from Farrington, Aiea and Mililani.
That’s something Papalii wants to see.
“Hopefully, they can improve their stock and go to a four-year college,” Papalii said.
Tomlin came to the Big Island in early December to meet his future players in person — something Papalii said impressed his players.
Tomlin also ventured north and met with Honokaa coach Bobby Embernate, who helped him establish other connections by driving him to Hilo to meet other coaches. Tomlin said he plans on showing his appreciation by coaching at Embernate’s Primetime Football Clinic in June.
Tomlin also had a special recruiter on his fall roster: 2012 Kealakehe graduate Jacob Ontiveros, who sat out the year after suffering a knee injury in the preseason.
Papalii said Ontiveros helped sell the Corsairs to Jones. Two other connections to the California area — Paogofie’s uncle played at Redwoods, and Kealakehe junior Feke Sopoaga-Kioa has relatives who live in Eureka — factored into Tomlin’s big haul from Kealakehe.
Off the field, Papalii said, having such a large group of players going to one school will make adjusting to new surroundings easier.
“It’ll be comforting to know they have someone to lean on,” Papalii said.
Cho will play defensive back for the Corsairs, and he said “any local boy from Hawaii is a brother to me on the mainland.”
“I want to make a statement for the Hawaii people,” Cho said. “We all can play.”