Bred to wear the red
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM Kahuku running back Mulivai Pula has run the 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds and can bench press 300 pounds.
By playing football for Kahuku, Mulivai Pula is living his childhood dream
Mulivai Pula was born to be a Red Raider.
As a youngster growing up in Hauula, Pula spent most of his fall Fridays watching the Kahuku football team rumble up and down Carlton E. Weimer Athletic Field and dreaming of the day he would be part of the North Shore program.
"We used to come to the games and we used to watch all those stars like Ken Faavae, Itula Mili and all of them," Pula recalled. "We'd watch them and I'd think, 'I wonder what's the feeling to be on the Kahuku football team.' "
Pula satisfied his curiosity by joining the Red Raiders once he reached high school and has enjoyed a reciprocal relationship with the program. Just as the Red Raiders cherish Pula's talents as one of the state's top running backs, he remains grateful for the opportunity to play for the North Shore school.
"It means a lot," Pula said. "I was lucky I came to this school, it was the right place for me."
This season, Pula helped Kahuku maintain its place atop the Oahu Interscholastic Association as a co-champion and will lead the Red Raiders into the Chevron State Football Championships tomorrow.
Kahuku (11-0) begins defense of its state title at 5 p.m. by facing Maui Interscholastic League champion Lahainaluna in the first game of a doubleheader at Aloha Stadium. St. Louis faces Aiea in the second game at 7:30 p.m.
Castle travels to Kauai to face Waimea at Vidinha Stadium and Waiakea hosts Kailua at Wong Stadium in Hilo.
For anyone to dethrone Kahuku, they would have to contain a Red Raider attack that has outscored its opponents by an average score of 41-10 this season, thanks in part to Pula's productivity at running back.
Pula began the season by sprinting 62 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage against Skyline (Utah) in Kahuku's season debut. He continued to shred defenses throughout the regular season and OIA playoffs, rushing for 1,138 yards, scoring 21 touchdowns and averaging nearly 10 yards every time he carried the ball.
And as the games have gotten bigger, so have Pula's performances.
He rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the OIA quarterfinals against Roosevelt on Nov. 1. And last week, he led the Red Raiders to a share of the league championship by rushing for 147 yards and scoring five touchdowns in the first half of a 48-0 win over Aiea.
Pula, who had seen spot duty as a kick returner this season, doused Aiea's hopes for an upset by returning the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
"When the big games come, he'll be in a lot on special teams," Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said. "Right now, everybody's just playing where they should be, but when we need to, he'll be out there more."
Pula has racked up his impressive statistics in limited playing time this season, as the Red Raiders' large halftime margins meant he and the Kahuku starters were often on the bench by the third quarter.
"All through the season, we didn't use him as much as we'd love to use him," Livai said. "Sometimes the situations don't allow us to do a lot of things with him."
Not that sharing bothers the 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior. A total of 12 Kahuku players ran the ball against Aiea last week.
"I just take myself out because my main goal is make everybody else play," Pula said. "That's the best feeling for me, when all of the players are playing."
Pula has also had to share the spotlight this season as a part of the Red Raiders' offensive arsenal. Quarterback Inoke Funaki has excelled both running the ball and throwing to receivers Loga Fonoimoana, James Kammerer and Moana Hafoka. Earvin Atuaia is a battering ram at fullback.
And Pula's combination of speed and power has not only made him nearly impossible to stop, but puts him near the top of the list of outstanding running backs to play at Kahuku. Two of the backs he admired growing up, Mark Atuaia and Vai Notoa, are now the team's running back coaches.
"You can go down the list, from Lakei Heimuli on down," Livai said. "Everybody had their strengths and weaknesses and I would say he would be among the top five we have had here, because of his exceptional speed."
Pula is a sprinter on the Kahuku track and field team and has run the 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds. He also bench presses more than 300 pounds.
But Pula's physical gifts are just part of the reason for his success. There's also something to be said for being born and bred to wear Kahuku red.
"A lot of these kids grew up here and that was one of their dreams, to be a Red Raider," Livai said. "I think that's one of the big pluses for this program, the pride that these kids have within them to be part of the team."
State football quarterfinal matchups
Lahainaluna vs. Kahuku
Aloha Stadium, 5 p.m.
The road to states: The Lunas (8-1) defeated Baldwin 26-14 last week to win the Maui Interscholastic League championship. The Red Raiders (10-0) won a share of the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship with a 48-0 victory over Aiea last week.
Why to watch: Kahuku begins defense of its state title, led by an offense with game-breakers at every turn. The Lunas' defense surrendered more than a touchdown in just two games this season.
Game keys: While the Kahuku offense receives more attention, the Red Raider defense remains one of the state's best. The Lahainaluna offensive line must find a way to keep disruptive defensive ends Jonathan Mapu and Darrell Tachibana out of the backfield to give quarterback Kainoa Casco time to operate.
The undersized Lunas' defensive front needs to hold its ground at the line of scrimmage and swarm to the ball to slow down the talent-laden Red Raider offense. Kahuku showed off another weapon in the OIA playoffs, using Mapu as a tight end. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman caught a 31-yard pass and scored on a 2-point conversion against Roosevelt.
Lahainaluna won the MIL title, thanks to the leadership of a 21-player senior class, but most of the Lunas have never been in Aloha Stadium nor played on artificial turf.
Sounding off -- Lahainaluna coach Robert Watson: "I'm sure it's going to be a David and Goliath thing, but we're just going to come out here and try to represent Maui the best we can."
Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai: "The thing that's in our mind is there's a big game coming up, and if we lose it doesn't matter if you're the (OIA) champion or 11-0. Our focus is strictly on Lahainaluna and winning this week."
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