Defense Leads A Tough And Talented Leilehua Team
For the Leilehua football team, the 2012 schedule has been unrelenting — kind of like its defense, which shows no signs of letting up.
The Mules kicked off against defending Alaska state champion Service High School then had a date with ILH powerhouse Kamehameha Aug. 18. Leilehua won both games, thanks in large part to their defensive efforts.
Two games into the season, the team has forced seven takeaways, leaving it at plus-four in turnoverratio.
“Obviously, the defense has played lights out,” said head coach Nolan Tokuda, whose team is yielding only 12 points per game to its opponents. “They’ve been a great surprise because they (the forced turnovers) have come at opportune times. (Defensive coordinator) Mark (Kurisu) does a great job year-in and year-out, but to see it on the field again (in 2012) gives us high hopes.
“We wanted to see how we’d do against two really tough defenses, and they’ve stepped it up. They’re giving us time to grow on offense.”
On Saturday night, Leilehua will face arguably its biggest challenge of the young season: rival Mililani. In recent years, this game served as the OIA Red West finale for both.
Among the reasons the Mules’ defense has been stellar is depth on the line. Kurisu has been rotating eight physical and agile wide bodies — Chavez Moala, Jhonny Alvarez, Andrew Sespasara, Jeremy Taua, Junior Sitani, Kendric Nunes, Robert McCarthy and Torenzo Vereen — into the mix.
“It all starts up front,” Tokuda said of his line, which has helped hold opponents to just 90 yards on the ground per game. “We’ve been able to keep them fresh (as a unit), and they’ve been giving 100 percent effort every play. That’s allowed our linebackers to make plays.”
Sespasara is among the Iron Men, performing both ways for the Mules, along with linebacker/running back Keannu Kamakaiwi. Senior Leland Wong also earned special praise from the coaching staff. Fellow linebacker Samson Zimmerman missed the Kamehameha game, but figures to be full-go for the Mililani game.
The defensive plan begins with trying to contain Trojan quarterback Jarin Morikawa. Now a senior, Morikawa already has thrown for 464 yards and five touchdowns (against just one interception) in leading Mililani to wins over Moanalua and Pac-Five. Morikawa is no stranger to the Leilehua program. He was a ball boy in 2007 for the Mules when they won the state championship. His father was then the quarterbacks coach for Leilehua.
“I usually text him before his games, say a prayer for him, and wish him the best,” Tokuda said. “He’s grown into a fine young man. He’s a student of the game and a very intelligent kid — he has a 3.7 gpa. Our hands will be full with him.”