COUNTDOWN: Healthy Kaonohi Kaniho makes big difference for No. 5 Kahuku

Kahuku's Kaonohi Kaniho had his season cut short last year with a knee injury. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Kahuku is eager to put the 2018 season behind it.

The 7-5 Red Raiders were hit hard by the injury bug, preventing them from playing to their full potential in year one of Open Division play in the OIA-ILH football alliance.

This year’s Kahuku squad returns plenty of talent and is ranked No. 5 in the Star-Advertiser preseason poll. The preview story from Monday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser can be read by clicking here.

Among the players hungry to get back on the field is Kaonohi Kaniho, who as a sophomore was a Star-Advertiser All-State first-team selection at cornerback. His junior season was cut short when he tore his PCL in a 30-14 loss to Saint Louis on Sept. 7.

“I definitely have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Recruiting kind of slowed down too after last year’s injury, a lot of coaches questioning whether I’m going to be healthy or not. The goal this year is to just stay healthy and play all games including playoffs.”

Kaniho currently holds offers from Hawaii and Boise State, where older brother and 2016 All-State Defensive Player of the Year Kekaula Kaniho is preparing for his junior season.

Kekaula Kaniho projects to start at safety for the Broncos and has shown plenty of his big-play ability that made him a star at Kahuku, scoring three touchdowns, picking off three passes with a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries during his college career so far.

“It’s been really cool. It kind of tells me that we can do it and go the next level and succeed at the next level,” the younger Kaniho said. “I pick his brain too, ask him a bunch of questions about what they’re doing up there that can help me out here to better improve my game and me as a person.”

Kaonohi Kaniho was asked to play both ways for Kahuku as a sophomore, catching six passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns, including a 59-yard score that gave the Red Raiders a 28-24 lead over Saint Louis in the 2017 state title game before the Crusaders prevailed 31-28. He also had a team-high nine tackles that night.

“Wherever the coaches need me, I’ll play,” Kaniho said. “I’ll do whatever it takes for the team to get the Koa again.”

Linebacker Miki Ah You, offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi, and defensive back Mana Fonoimoana-Vaomu were just some of the players the Red Raiders were without for large chunks of the season.

Ah You and Vimahi are both college freshmen now, with Ah You at Washington and Vimahi at Ohio State. Along with Kaniho, Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho says Mana and Kana Fonoimoana-Vaomu, along with safety/linebacker Ace Kaufusi, will be the senior leaders for Kahuku’s defense this season.

Mana and Kana, despite being a year apart in age, are both seniors. Both are also committed to playing college ball for Navy. Kaufusi has offers from Utah, Utah State and BYU.

Kaniho said he is “not really thinking about that right now. Everything else will fall into place once I get myself together. Just focused on getting back on the field and playing every single game as good as I can be.”

On offense, Carvalho expects senior lineman Micah Soliai Howlett to be the anchor of the unit. Last month, Soliai Howlett committed to Arizona State over seven other FBS offers.

“I really wanted to play in the Pac-12,” he said. “Coach (Kevin) Mawae is a really good coach and he’s about to be in the Hall of Fame. I just wanted to be coached by him.

“(Committing) just lets me worry about the season, not about getting recruited. Just getting better as a team, too. We’re just hungry to play. We want to win games.”

Kahuku offensive lineman Micah Soliai Howlett (75) and linebacker Ace Kaufusi (4) locked up during linemen drills during a summer practice. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

In addition to its second year of Open Division competition, Kahuku will travel to the mainland to take on Timpview (Utah) on Sept. 6. The team will also tour the University of Utah and watch the Utes play Northern Illinois on Sept 7. Bradlee Anae, Keala Santiago and Malik Haynes are all Kahuku alumni on the Utes’ roster.

“We have some things planned for the boys. We talked about this as an opportunity not just to play an out-of-state team, but also use this trip for team bonding to get closer together, to provide educational opportunities that we have for them up there, to open their eyes to some colleges we’re gonna go and visit,” Carvalho said. “We have some things planned for them and that’s want we want. We want the kids not just to play the game of football on the field, but to see what’s out there after high school.”

Timpview figures to be a formidable challenge for the Red Raiders, but Carvalho says his squad can’t afford to look ahead.

“Right now, we take each opponent a week at a time. In this OIA/ILH divisional conference, you gotta take it one team at a time,” Carvalho said. “We’re not looking straight forward to Timpview in four or five weeks, we gotta worry about Kamehameha (season opener on Aug. 10), that’s what we have to take care of first.”

COUNTDOWN: Healthy Kaonohi Kaniho makes big difference for No. 5 Kahuku

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