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By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin Siuaki Livai, center, has his team ready to challenge for the OIA title.

Kahuku looks powerful enough to regain a spot among the OIA's elite teams

They're back.

Kahuku High's Red Raiders, exiled for a year to the Oahu Interscholastic Association's White Conference, have stormed back into the elite Red this season.

And they're loaded.

Anyone who witnessed either of the Red Raiders' home field victories over Morse High or Banning High, both traditionally strong California programs, knows Kahuku will be hard to stop.

The Red Raiders have three quarterbacks who have shown ability to be starters for any team in the conference. They have a running back who ran roughshod over a quick defensive line last weekend. They have a big-play defense.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin Livai's son, blocking on the left, is the team's top player

And, probably most important, Kahuku has superb special teams, coached by former Red Raider Sikeli Wily.

Long punt and kick returns set up scores against Morse, while two blocked punts and a forced fumble rattled Banning's composure.

This is head coach Siuaki Livai's third season as successor to Doug Semones. The past two have not been easy.

First, there was the disastrous 1996 season following Semones' departure to take a position with the University of Hawaii coaching staff.

It looked worse because Semones had brought the Red Raiders to the Prep Bowl for the third straight year in 1995. And he had come within a whisker of overthrowing St. Louis' dynasty.

In a football-mad community such as Kahuku, banishment to the OIA White was just a little better than being denied electricity for a full year.

Livai endured the complaints and lived with the speculation that Semones, who had brought Kahuku a league or division title every year since 1989, would soon return to put everything right. This was speculation Semones constantly dismissed. But he couldn't dismiss the public pressure felt by Livai to produce a winner, and to do it fast.

He did.

The Red Raiders barreled through the White Conference season like a 20-foot wave into Waimea Bay, running up a 6-0 record. They made it as far as the semifinals of the OIA playoffs.

Now, with convincing wins in two tough preseason tuneups, the Red Raiders have the North Shore buzzing again.

Kahuku starts with nine returning starters, including a large and seasoned offensive line of seniors, led by Livai's son, 6-foot-3, 310-pound right tackle Siuaki Livai Jr.

A top college prospect, Livai Jr. squats more than 600 pounds and bench presses nearly 400.

The only "new" face on the line is 6-4, 300-pound left guard Toniu Fonoti, who spent last season at El Camino High (Calif.) Fonoti played for Kahuku in 1996.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai gives some pointers to Kala Latusela on how to catch and return the ball during punting drills.

The right guard is 6-3, 263-pound James Tupola. At left tackle is 6-2, 288-pound Kendall Buttel. Centering the line is 5-11, 280-pound Tuufuli Masoe.

Put 6-0, 204-pound senior back Talamoni Talamoni behind that line and you've got a rushing tsunami.

Dre Manumaleuna, a 5-7, 240-pound senior cannonball, adds depth to the running attack.

At quarterback, the option never looked better at Kahuku.

The Red Raiders will choose a starter but 6-0, 176-pound senior Wayne Fonoimoana, 5-9, 170-pound junior Vai Funaki, and 6-0, 170-pound junior Orlando Wong have all shown an exceptional ability to move the offense.

"I'm more confused than ever," said Livai after the 47-14 win against Banning.

Just how good might Kahuku be this season? Banning head coach Chris Guttierez offered a rather surprising comment about how the Red Raiders would fare against USA Today's No. 2 team in the "Super 25."

"They're very impressive, and I think they would have a good game against Long Beach Poly," Guttierez said.

Defending Red champion Campbell, Kahuku's opponent Friday night in the conference season opener at Aloha Stadium, took it on the chin from Torrey Pines' (Calif.) last weekend at the stadium.

"Campbell is the team that beat us in the OIA playoffs last year, so we have to be focused," Livai said.

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