Unfinished business: Lunas focused, hungry after loss News, Sports, Jobs


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Lahainaluna High School head coach Dean Rickard (left) watches his offensive linemen quick-step their way through a drill Tuesday afternoon at Sue Cooley Stadium. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

LAHAINA — The smiles on the faces of Jaysen Akahi-Vida and LJ Morikawa told much of the story on Tuesday afternoon at Sue Cooley Stadium.

The Lahainaluna High School football team was preparing for its 12th day of practice and one of the leading offensive lineman, Akahi-Vida, was talking outside the locker room with the reigning Maui Interscholastic League Defensive Player of the Year, Morikawa.

“It’s amazing to be back,” said the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Morikawa, a senior edge rusher. “I was kind of gone for a little bit because I got an injury, but all healed up from that now, glad to be back with my team, get our team chemistry and work on everything we need to work on, just get better as a team.”

Morikawa suffered second degree burns on his feet after his cleats melted in the heat at a football camp at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in late June.

“It burned my feet and I got like second degree burns and a big blister on each side, but it’s all healed now,” Morikawa said. “I feel awesome now.”


Morikawa gives up 50 pounds to Akahi-Vida, a 6-1, 260-pound left tackle, but they battle every day in practice and each gets better because of it.

Battles like that happen all over the field as the Lunas ride an MIL-record 31 league wins in a row into the season — they haven’t lost an MIL game since Oct. 15, 2016, when Baldwin beat them 19-13.

“It helps us out because they are really great, tough competition,” Morikawa said of going against his offensive line teammates. “When we go head-to-head every day it’s the best versus the best, so D-line, O-line head-to-head, we’re just constantly getting better, working on new moves. Yeah, it’s just great.”

Akahi-Vida said to be officially practicing in early August for the first time since 2019 due to the pandemic is special.

“It feels good, we compete with each other every day — he’s not in pads yet, but when he does get back in pads, we always compete, everybody, even Keawe (Kane-Keahi).” Akahi-Vida said. “All the D-line and O-line, we always strive to get ourselves better every day. We do make each other better.


“I would say our defensive line is really quick compared to other defensive lines we’ve gone to, but when they’re a big challenge it really helps us out.”

Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard has grown a long beard after his recent retirement from the Maui Police Department — he plans on playing Santa Claus for his five grandchildren — and he said his team is uber-focused after their 38-0 loss to Iolani. in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I state championship game in December.

Last year, the Lunas, like the rest of the state’s public schools, started practice and then had to pause and restart after a six-week break dictated by the state Department of Education over COVID-19 protocols.

“I think for the kids and the coaches, not to have that uncertainty makes it a lot better for everybody, we’re able to focus on the job at hand,” Rickard said. “For the kids, they realize the season is going to happen and not one shortened season, it’s going to be a full season.”

The Lunas will play a preseason game for the first time since 2019 when they travel to Hilo to take on the Vikings on Aug. 13. They were also part of a three-way controlled scrimmage on Saturday at King Kekaulike Stadium that included Na Alii and Maui High.

Lahainaluna players break from a huddle at the end of a speed and quickness workout conducted by coach Randy Casco on Tuesday.

“We were fortunate enough, they invited us and that was a big opportunity for us as coaches, as well as the players, to get a feel for putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” Rickard said. “So, a big opportunity. The kids are excited. You could tell, even Maui High, their coaches were excited. King K, they were looking pretty good, too.”

Rickard said he saw several large linemen for both the Sabers and Na Alii.

“I’m not so sure, but whatever water they have over on the other side, it doesn’t transport over to this side because they’ve got something special there, no doubt, both King K and Maui High,” Rickard said. “It was a good scrimmage.”

Rickard said 38-0 still stings. That loss ended an 18-game overall winning streak and a 10-0, five-season run in the state tournament that included four straight Division II state titles.

“It’s almost like unfinished business for many of the returnees,” Rickard said. “That’s the way we’re trying to approach it and treat it as such.”

Lahainaluna offensive linemen work on their mobility and footwork Tuesday afternoon at Sue Cooley Stadium

Former co-head coach Garret Tihada is back as the team’s offensive coordinator after a three-year absence.

“So you can expect the same old from what we’ve been running anyway because we never really skipped a beat when he took the little hiatus, for the past three years,” Rickard said. “Now, everything is all good. He’s retired like me, so we’ve got some time to spend with football and working on the season. But, yeah, we’re very much looking forward to the season.

“I think the 38-0, it’s not so much dwelling on it, it’s a good check because going up against Iolani, we’ve had a rivalry with them for years.”

Rickard said the message to the team full of young returnees after that state championship loss was simple.

“It kind of sits heavy on their minds, but at the same time, it was a lot of learning lessons that, ‘Hey, in order to get to that level, we need to put in that work in the offseason to make sure that we can focus enough to get to that level,’ Rickard said.

Junior quarterback Noah Gordon, who was 25-for-42 passing for 601 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in MIL play last season, is currently in a three-way battle for the starting QB spot.

Ian-Jay Cabanilla (55 carries, 566 yards, 4 TDs) and Kaulana Tihada (83-411, 8 TDs) each return after finishing 1-2 on the MIL rushing list last season.

Rickard said there are 45 to 47 players set to play on the varsity team and 20 to 25 on the junior varsity.

Linebacker Kahi Magno, edge rusher Maualina Montgomery and defensive lineman Kawika Kaili are all back as sophomores after making big contributions as freshmen last year.

“I think that many of the returning underclassmen this year realize what is needed,” Rickard said. “That’s our job as the coaches to make sure we stay on that path. … These kids are ready, they’re hungry.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.


MIL Football Preseason games

Friday, Aug. 12

Maui High vs. Nanakuli at War Memorial Stadium, 7 pm

Saturday, Aug. 13

Kamehameha Hawaii at Kamehameha Maui, 6 p.m

Waimea at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m

Lahainaluna vs. Hilo at Wong Stadium, 6 p.m

Baldwin at Kauai, time TBA

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