STEER­ING THE SHIP

Drum­mondo has Viks on cham­pi­onship chase

West Hawaii Today - - Front Page - BY BART WRIGHT

When the pos­si­bil­ity first oc­curred back in 2015, Kaeo Drum­mondo re­sponded sen­si­bly. Thanks, but no thanks. Drum­mondo had been the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Hilo High School for head coach Dave Bald­win since 2011 and, com­bined with his full time job as po­lice of­fi­cer, his days and nights were stuffed full.

When Bald­win was sus­pended early in the 2015 sea­son, about 10 days be­fore a pre­sea­son game against Pu­na­hou, some­body had to be the head coach. A num­ber of de­ci­sion-mak­ers at the school be­gan cast­ing glances at Drum­mondo.

“My first thought?” he said the other day re­flect­ing on that time. “My first thought was, ‘No way.’ I had a job and I spent a lot of time coach­ing af­ter work, I couldn’t see how it could hap­pen.”

De­ci­sions needed to be made. The first few hours grew into a day and an­other day. Drum­mondo fig­ured, okay, he could fill in for the sea­son and get through the year, some­how.

“I wasn’t ready for it,” he said. “I never thought I had the time to fit ev­ery­thing in, there were things I knew I didn’t even know about that I’d have to do, but at the time, we just couldn’t find an­other route to go, the school was in a tight spot.”

Drum­mondo took over and now, just two cal­en­dar years and three foot­ball sea­sons later, you can hardly imag­ine a bet­ter fit.

This year, the Hilo High School Vik­ings broke the prover­bial glass ceil­ing for state of Hawaii prep foot­ball, ad­vanc­ing to the HHSAA Di­vi­sion I state cham­pi­onship game

game Satur­day against Damien.

Book­mark this one, it’s a rare level of achieve­ment. The Vik­ings ran off a 19-0 sec­ond half against Maui for a 26-7 vic­tory in the semi­fi­nal game, break­ing a streak of 19 at­tempts by BIIF teams to ad­vance at states, six of the fruit­less en­coun­ters in­volv­ing Hilo.

That first sea­son, the Vik­ings man­aged a 7-4 record and reached the first round. A year ago, they were 8-2 with an­other quar­ter­fi­nal loss and this sea­son it has been 9-1, a three­year record of 24-7, im­prove­ment each year.

Drum­mondo was asked what it all means, not for him, but for the big­ger pic­ture of high school foot­ball on the Big Is­land. His head dropped down a mo­ment, then it popped back up. He had a solemn look on his face.

“Peo­ple are ex­cited. It’s been a long time com­ing,” he said. “You know, it’s all been a learn­ing process, a new ap­proach for all th­ese kids. I still have a lot to learn.

“I never knew I would love do­ing this as much as I do, es­pe­cially here,” said the Hawaii na­tive. “I love foot­ball, it’s been a part of my life since I was seven years old. This is an op­por­tu­nity for me to try to present this game and what it can mean to all th­ese play­ers.”

A Kame­hameha-Ka­palama grad­u­ate and a two-year, un­der­sized line­backer at Santa Rosa Ju­nior Col­lege, Drum­mond re­turned to the Big Is­land, fin­ished up his de­gree at Hawaii Hilo and was able to get a Masters in crim­i­nal jus­tice in on­line cour­ses.

“In a way, I guess I hope they can be like me,” he said of his play­ers. “For me, foot­ball kept me out of trou­ble, it kept me want­ing to play the game. Foot­ball kept me want­ing to keep my grades up, to do a lit­tle more than the min­i­mum just to not lose the chance to play foot­ball.

“I’m like a lot of th­ese kids,” he said. “I grew up in a low-in­come house­hold, it wasn’t al­ways easy, you had to fig­ure some things out for your­self. If we can make this game, this ex­pe­ri­ence, as good as it was for (Drum­mondo and his coaches), well, that’s what we’re try­ing to do.”

It’s a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for a guy who couldn’t pic­ture him­self be­ing a head coach three years ago and who can’t pic­ture not be­ing a head coach to­day.

He chat­ted in a dark room with a small desk off to the side of the prac­tice field at the school. Out­side, as his team was stretch­ing and loos­en­ing up for prac­tice, soft reg­gae mu­sic filled the air.

“Give it a few min­utes,” he said, “once they get a hold of it, we’ll be hear­ing rap.”

And it did take just a cou­ple min­utes be­fore it started.

“What did I tell you?” Drum­mondo said with a know­ing grin.

He knows this team, and they know him. Even as he strug­gled with the con­cept of tak­ing over three years ago, Drum­mondo and the rest of the coach­ing staff were look­ing ahead to this year.

“When we first came here in ’11, we started look­ing for­ward,” he said, “and it wasn’t long be­fore we saw the core of this se­nior class and re­ally thought it was go­ing to be a spe­cial group. We weren’t mak­ing pre­dic­tions or any­thing but we thought this team would have a chance — if ev­ery­thing went right as far as not los­ing peo­ple with in­juries or what­ever — to be a re­ally good team.”

This is not your typ­i­cal foot­ball coach, un­less you know of oth­ers who work a full com­mu­nity polic­ing shift from the morn­ing un­til the af­ter­noon, and then he be­comes a full time head coach of a high school foot­ball team.

“It’s very hard to bal­ance,” he said when asked about the time crunch on po­lice work and foot­ball. “I thought when I started if I could get through the first year I’d fig­ure out ways to man­age the time bet­ter, that it would get eas­ier. If any­thing, I keep find­ing more foot­ball re­lated), things to do, both jobs are so time con­sum­ing, it’s a chal­lenge.”

Prac­tices re­quire prepa­ra­tion time — what drills, when, for how long? There are ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties as the head foot­ball coach, the school and oth­ers send emails and texts. Oh, and then there’s a full time job that pays the bills.

Most of all though, there’s those kids, their goals and a dream of a lo­cal cop to, in some way, show them all how to love the foot­ball ex­pe­ri­ence.

Hilo head coach Kaeo Drum­mondo cel­e­brates with his team.

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