GLORY DAYS: Coach Sterling Carvalho and the 2019 Kahuku Red Raiders
Kauai's Sterling Carvalho led the Red Raiders to the 1991 KIF championship with an overtime win over Waimea. Photo courtesy Sterling Carvalho.
17TH IN A SERIES This summer, head coaches from all 28 Oahu high school varsity football teams are being asked to recount their football playing days. One coach interviewed for this multi-part series pointed out what he thinks may be the value of this endeavor: “A lot of times, you only hear about coaches when they’re getting released or are having a special season. It’s super hard to have a special season, so this should shed more light on them as people and their journey of when they were student-athletes. It’s going to bring more respect to the people who are doing this job. They didn’t all of a sudden become a high school coach because they coached Pop Warner. These guys have gone through it all, they’ve run the gamut of experiences.” Some made it to the NFL. Others went to big colleges. Still others went the small-college route. They started as young’uns and got the bug, falling in love with football and taking pride in passing on their knowledge. Along with the coaches’ look-back at their football-playing pasts, they also give their outlook on where their programs are at heading into the 2019 season.
Sterling Carvalho hopes to improve in Year 2 as Kahuku football coach. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
PART 17: COACH STERLING CARVALHO AND THE 2019 KAHUKU RED RAIDERS Leadership from coaches is one thing. Leadership from players on the field is another. High school football teams usually have a handful of those leader types and it’s rare that one of them becomes that sort of “consensus” leader — the one everyone looks up to, the one whom everyone follows. Kahuku had that in linebacker Miki Ah You last year, so when he went down with an injury, the Red Raiders’ hole was pretty big. “I’m not making excuses, but once your main leader goes down and you have other key injuries, it does have an effect,” coach Sterling Carvalho said. The hole in the lives of the Red Raiders players also became larger due to the death of two important assistant coaches/mentors — Pele Liataua and Tommy Heffernan Sr. during the season. “We had trials off the field last year, and sometimes I felt more like a counselor than a coach,” Carvalho said. “It was a trying experience and we had a lot of ups and downs. “As bad as we did, we still made it to the state semifinals. I’m very optimistic about 2019. We’re returning a great group of seniors and a lot of them have been on the varsity squad since sophomore year. This is our second year going through this type of gauntlet (OIA-ILH alliance), so we’re working on how to prepare not just mentally but also physically. How do we manage practice and get enough out of our players who are recovering from the week before? We’re looking for the OIA championship first. We need to get back that OIA championship. There’s been a lot of great coaching changes, not just head coaches, but also some coordinators. It’s going to be a very interesting year once again.” During his youth days, Carvalho played for the Lihue Dolphins and Lihue Jets in Pop Warner. “I played as soon as I could, about age 8, and all the way through high school,” he said. “I was so light my first year that I had to get a waiver to play, even though I didn’t weigh enough. (With twin brother Stewart), I remember stuffing fishing weight in our shorts to make weight.” The Carvalho twins had a Hawk watching over them. Their father Steven‘s nickname is “Hawk.” “He coached every sport we played,” Carvalho said. “It was a good thing and a bad thing. He really knew what was going on. Your worst critic. We would come home to the yard, strap it up and keep practicing. Failure wasn’t an excuse back then. We were raised with an iron fist and he wanted us to be perfect in everything we did.” Throughout his football career that culminated in the Hurricane Iniki-shortened 1992 season for Kauai High, Carvalho was a quarterback and a safety. Brother Stewart was a receiver and defensive back. “We were too small to play any other positions,” he said. Carvalho earned the nickname “The Magician” by Fig Mitchell, the KIF radio announcer at the time. That was mostly for his skills at quarterbacking the option offense, where it is of utmost importance to try to deceive the opponent on which back actually has the ball. “I played on a lot of option type of offenses,” he said. “We did a lot of play-action. This was the ’80s — Nebraska and Oklahoma football. It wasn’t wide open. I was part of the play on almost every play.” After playing Pop Warner as a freshman (there was no JV team), Carvalho opted to play on the volleyball team (where his father was head coach) as a sophomore. He also ran cross country and played basketball for Kauai High and was always one of the youngest in his class. “My mom started us in school early,” he said. “She had six kids, so she wanted us out of the house already. I finished my first semester of college at age 17.” Carvalho is proud to have been part of the 1991 KIF championship team under coach Bill Arakaki. It had been more than a decade since the school had pulled it out. “Those were the days,” he said. “That championship was my biggest accomplishment. That was a huge thing, especially the manner in which we won in overtime.” Kauai actually tied Waimea 0-0 in the final KIF regular-season game to finish in a tie with the Menehunes in the standings. A Kansas overtime (four plays from the 10) was held to determine a champion and a berth in the now-defunct Neighbor Islands Championship. Carvalho rolled out to his right on a third- or fourth-down play and hit Troy Refamonte with a touchdown pass while getting clocked by a defender. His teammates had held Waimea previously, so that was the sudden win. “It was a play-action, with the fullback sneaking out to the flat. (Refamonte) was covered, so I had to buy some time. He ended up a little deeper into the end zone. I had a guy right in my face and I didn’t know he caught the ball because I was on my back. “My very first year of high school football, a starting quarterback taking his team all the way,” Carvalho said. “There was a great cast of players. I remember coaches back then having a huge impression on my life. That’s why I’m in the profession I’m in as a teacher and coach. For Coach Arakaki, education was huge. He had twin daughters and he could relate to all of us. He wanted us to be great men with great character off and on the field. Another assistant, Ross Shimabukuro, was also a huge influence on our lives. He also coached track and helped to put me on the right path. Macky Doi, who still helps out the Kauai High coaches now, was a really smart coach. He made sure you just didn’t call plays verbatim, but also made sure you understood why you were running that play. We were calling this play to set up other plays. That’s how I learned the process of calling a game. I was very fortunate to have him as my coach.” One memorable player on that Kauai High team was speedy and elusive running back Taylor Shigemoto. Mitchell called him “Shake and Bake.” “We also had a great fullback in Refamonte,” Carvalho added. “We had the horses back then. We were so dominant at running and we could play off of that through play-action. And — everybody knows — that’s also how Kahuku plays football.” Carvalho doesn’t think much about the fact that his Red Raiders didn’t repeat in 1992. “(Iniki) hit on the same day that was supposed to be our first game of the season,” he said. “My parents woke me up at about 4 or 5 that morning and told me it was coming. It wiped out (a big portion) of our season. For months, we couldn’t go to school. We were busy with community service and helping people rebuild their homes. Some players couldn’t make it back to the team because they were helping their families and others rebuild. It wasn’t the same (as the year before). Our focus wasn’t football.” Carvalho remembers a bunch of the the top players on those Red Raiders teams — guard Bruce Nance, tight end Jeff Garcia, center Keoni Adviento, running back Donovan Ferreira (nicknamed “the Utility Knife” and “Mighty Mouse,” was 5 feet, 4 inches and could bench the most on the team), and Darwin Bukoski. After high school, Carvalho went on a Mormon mission, serving in upstate New York to Spanish-speaking communities. His brother Stewart went to Okinawa and then came back to play running back for the University of Utah. Carvalho got his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young-Hawaii, where he played club rugby, and his Masters at the University of Hawaii. “A big moment in rugby was when our club team beat Stanford,” he said. Carvalho started teaching in 2000 at Waialua, when Chico Capello was the head coach for the Bulldogs. “He brought me on right away as the defensive coordinator,” Carvalho said. “I was an offensive person, so I had to learn the game from the defensive side. I was fortunate to get to know Ron McBride, my brother’s coach at Utah, and I picked his brain. Still, to this day, we still talk football. He has a wealth of knowledge about football and about education. He loved the Hawaii kids and recruited heavily here.” When he applied for the head job at Kahuku, Carvalho used McBride as a reference. Stewart Carvalho, who is a Kahuku assistant under his brother, played behind Chris Fuamatu-Maafala, the former Saint Louis running back who eventually played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After being DC at Waialua that one year, Carvalho switched to become the offensive coordinator the next year. “That first year, we went ‘defeated’ — we didn’t win a game, but we got creative on what to do, how to score and how to get the most of your players,” Carvalho said. “I love those times and I appreciate Chico giving me that opportunity. The Waialua community is awesome and the support was great. We didn’t have enough players for a scout team, so sometimes me and another assistant (Aaron Farley) would suit up. It was priceless at Waialua. I really enjoyed it.” When Reggie Torres was hired to be the Kahuku head coach, he hired Carvalho to be an assistant. “The one who knew me was Darren Johnson, who said to Reggie, ‘You gotta look at this guy from Waialua.’ ” He eventually became offensive coordinator at Kahuku, but took a leave of absence in 2009, when he was diagnosed as having lupus. He came back in 2010 to test his health. “That was the year we got disqualified (for an ineligible player),” he said. “In 2011 and ’12, we had some great teams; 2013 was Reggie’s last year.” Carvalho was then a wide receivers coach for Lee Leslie in 2014. He was not planning to coach under Vavae Tata in 2015, but one week before the season was going to start, the JV coaches left. “So, the AD Gillian Yamagata called me and said, ‘I need you to be the JV head coach and put together a staff,’ ” he said. He was the JV head coach until being hired as head coach in 2018 to replace Makoa Freitas. “Maintenance and medication, rest and exercise are big things,” Carvalho said about having lupus. Carvalho has some memorable coaching moments. “Winning the state championship in 2011,” he said. “That was the year we had a lot of juniors and Punahou was by far the favorite to win the championship game. We went in as a huge underdog. The team came together and was able to win that game, a huge moment for us, a huge moment for me.” Another top moment came in 2006. “We were losing in the semifinals to Baldwin,” Carvalho said. “I thought for sure we were going to lose. Baldwin had the ball and could have run out clock, but they didn’t. We won it with five seconds left on a double pass. You practice a play all season and you think maybe that you’re never going to use it. They used to tell us to go practice it on the upper field (and out of the way) because we were never going to use it. Then you finally get to use it after months and months of executing it. We beat Baldwin with it and saw Saint Louis in the final and won. It was a monumental task.”
Kahuku’s Pele Soliai powered his way into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown on the final play to beat Baldwin in the 2006 HHSAA Division I state semifinals. Star-Bulletin photo by Jamm Aquino.
2019 KAHUKU RED RAIDERS AT A GLANCE
2018 record and finish: 7-5 (3-2 OIA Open); Defeated Campbell 27-7 in OIA Open semifinals; Lost to Mililani 27-7 in OIA Open title game; Lost to Saint Louis 49-22 in HHSAA Open state semifinals. >> Head coach Sterling Carvalho’s staff: — Kimo Haiola (defensive coordinator) — Maui Kahalepuna (defensive line) — Rocky Savaiinaea (defensive line) — Lesa Maiava (linebackers) — Keala Santiago (defensive backs) — Nihoa Pule (defensive backs) — Reggie Torres (offensive line) — Garth Spurrier (offensive line) — Tala Esera (offensive line) — Kaipo Fiatoa (running backs) — Junior Mataafa (running backs) — Stewart Carvalho (wide receivers, special teams) — Dave NeSmith (tight ends, wide receivers) — Robby Toma (wide recievers) — Alvin Mariteragi (kickers) — Jeremy Wright (HUDL/film) — Steven Falatoa (HUDL/film) — JC Chang (equipment) >> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: N/A >> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections returning: Micah Soliai Howlett (third-team OL) >> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections lost to graduation: Tausili Fiatoa (first-team DE); Enokk Vimahi (second-team OL); Nalu Emerson (third-team S); Ethan Erickson (third-team P) >> Players with Division I FBS college offers: Micah Soliai Howlett, Sr., OL, 6-4, 290; Ace Kaufusi, Sr., LB, 6-3, 190; Kaonohi Kaniho, Sr., DB, 6-0, 185; Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Sr., DB, 5-9, 185; >> Among 2019 key returnees: Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Sr., DB, 5-9, 185; Aaron Fonoimoana, Sr., LB, 6-0, 200; Micah Soliai Howlett, Sr., OT, 6-4, 290; Marcus Lombard, Sr., OG, 6-0, 290; Kaonohi Kaniho, Sr., CB, 6-0, 185; Ace Kaufusi, Sr., LB, 6-3, 190. >> All-time state championships: 8 (all Division I — 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2015) >> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships:None >> All-time OIA championships: 26 (*including one co-championship; all Division I — 1943, 1944, 1947, 1956, 1959, 1969, 1972, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001*, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017) >> 2019 conference: OIA Open