Kammerer to be Sabers’ head coach for 2018 season #BeyondourNorthShore
With health as priority, Figueroa to run defense
KAHULUI — James Kammerer has stepped in to be the head coach for Maui High School football on an interim basis for the 2018 season after Rodney Figueroa dialed back his role with the team due to “medical reasons.”
Figueroa, the Maui Interscholastic League Coach of the Year last season after leading the Sabers to their second MIL Division I title in the last 17 years, will serve as the defensive coordinator this season. He is scheduled to return as the Sabers’ head coach in 2019.
Kammerer, 34, was a two-time state champion as a player and a five-year assistant coach for state powerhouse Kahuku before moving to Maui three years ago. He is set to begin his fourth year as a physical education teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate School next month.
“We’re very excited, this is a very tough conference,” Kammerer said before practice on Tuesday. “The MIL, between Lahainaluna and their program that works hard and is tough, and Baldwin and their talent, it’ll be fun to see who comes out on top.
“We’ve been working hard at our craft — coaches coming together and planning, players coming out all summer and giving it their all — we’re just really excited to have another competitive year.”
Kammerer, who was the Sabers’ offensive coordinator last season, is father to four sons, ages 10, 8, 5 and 3. He emphasized that the relationship between himself and Figueroa is strong and he is fully in support of Figueroa’s return to head coach in 2019.
“It’s been a great partnership, we worked well together last year,” Kammerer said. “With my experiences coming from Kahuku — I had great mentors there in Siuaki Livai and Reggie Torres.
“I helped out last year and this year it’s going to be a little bit of a role reversal where he’s going to totally back me up. (Figueroa’s) almost my mentor, so I’m happy to step into the program. … Coach Figgy has been a help, he’s going to continue to be a resource and a support to me as I hope to be to him as he comes back and takes over the program next year.”
Figueroa was injured in a car accident in 2014 that was caused by an impaired driver and ended up killing Figueroa’s mother-in-law, who was in Figueroa’s car.
After leading the Sabers (5-3 MIL, 5-6 overall) to the MIL D-I title last season, Figueroa felt pain in his back when he returned from a state semifinal loss at Hilo.
Doctors diagnosed “four to six” fractures in his spine that are healing well — they are believed to be leftover from the car crash — but when he saw his weight fall 40 pounds to 205, he returned to the doctor’s office.
Further tests revealed a “blood-related” cancer that Figueroa declined to name, but he said his long-term prognosis is good.
“I’ve got to take care of my health, get my health back to 100 percent,” Figueroa said. “I’ve got good doctors, I’m on the right path right now. Everything is better, you know, from what I was a couple months back.”
He said doctors have cleared him to return to coaching.
“It has changed, it has turned around with all the testing that they are doing and the medication that I’m taking,” Figueroa said. “I do chemo on Wednesdays three times a month. No radiation. I have a couple more (chemo) sessions to go. It’s positive right now with the numbers that they are seeing. The last time I went in they (the hospital staff) were high-fiving me.”
Figueroa said the decision to step back from his first head-coaching job after 16 years as an MIL assistant was not easy. He came to a preliminary decision to step back in April, but watching spring drills brought the need to coach back and he returned to the field before May practices ended.
“It took a long time to think because I’m a gamer, I want to coach, I want to help, I want to be in there, but I’ve got to look at my health long-term,” Figueroa said, fighting off tears. “Family support, all the help I’m getting from family, people around me. For me, it was hard at first because I had to tell my girls — one’s in her first year of college and the other is going to be a sophomore at Maui High. We went through all that and really it was a hard time for me.”
Mitchell Hirose, a senior wide receiver, said the transition has been seamless.
“It’s been smooth, it’s like nothing ever really changed because Coach Figgy is still just as involved,”Hirose said. “Coach Kam has always been just as involved, so it’s like the same.”
Senior linebacker Atu Falekaono, the reigning MIL Defensive Player of the Year, said he is happy to have Figueroa guiding the defense.
“Feels the same, actually,” he said. “Just have got to play the game. It feels good actually to have Coach Figgy on defense. He really knows what he’s doing for us.”