Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Grace keyed Kahuku, Konawaena

Male Athlete of the Week: Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Kahuku football

It takes Sterling Carvalho a little bit to recall the number of different hats that Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu wears for the Kahuku football team, but one can hardly blame the second-year coach of the Red Raiders.

After all, "Mana," as Fonoimoana-Vaomu goes by, has donned a bunch of different ones over the years.

"He's more of a safety, but sometimes he's played a hybrid linebacker, he's our punter, he can play wildcat on offense, at the beginning of the season he was even at quarterback, so that's his mindset," Carvalho said of the 5-foot-10, 182-pound senior. "He's tenacious and he just wants to compete and he wants to win, so he'll do whatever it takes for the team, but the bottom line is he's a winner."

Fonoimoana-Vaomu, who has served as a starter in the defensive secondary in each of his three varsity seasons, is one of the team captains as a senior this season.

"What he does best is he leads and he leads by example," Carvalho said. "People follow his leadership."

Fonoimoana-Vaomu led the way for the fourth-ranked Red Raiders with a stellar performance in last Saturday's 46-0 win over No. 5 Campbell in a semifinal game of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Open Division tournament. He recorded two of his team's four interceptions, including a 63-yard pick-6 in the second half.

"His performance was awesome. I mean, he did it with his leg on special teams (punting), defensively he was spot on, but it's a tribute not just to him, but our whole defensive unit and our whole special teams units, they did really good," Carvalho said.

Kahuku held the Sabers to just 2.7 yards per play and 145 total yards. Campbell was 2 of 11 on third downs and turned it over six times in all, including a pair of fumbles, and was shut out for the first time this season.

"They were just relentless, relentless to the ball," Carvalho said of his defense. "They practice that, the coaches harp on that, running sideline to sideline. We told them that it's playoff football time and we've got to step up our game, our level of intensity and they were ready for it and it was apparent last Saturday."

In addition to his two interceptions, Fonoimoana-Vaomu recorded 2 1/2 tackles and one tackle for loss. He averaged 30.8 yards on each of his five punts Saturday, but twice pinned the Sabers inside their own 20-yard line, including a 55-yard boot in the second quarter that went out of bounds at the Campbell 3-yard line.

Fonoimoana-Vaomu's first punt of the game led to Campbell starting its second offensive possession from its own 15. However, two plays later, Kahuku recorded a safety to open the scoring when Ace Kaufusi forced a fumble that was recovered by the Sabers, but in their own end zone.

"Special teams is the X-factor as far as any game goes — that's how we lost to Mililani earlier this year — their special teams was on point and put us in bad situations, they took advantage of our turnovers, so moving forward after that game we needed to make sure our special teams was on point, so with Mana he gives us different options as far as punting," Carvalho said.

Carvalho noted that Fonoimoana-Vaomu is well capable of executing an end-over-end, rugby-style punt that has greatly limits the opportunity for returns by the opposing team.

"But at the same time he can fake a punt — and we did that against Punahou — so you can't just lay back and expect us to punt the ball and that puts a lot of pressure on their return team," Carvalho said.

In one instance Saturday, Fonoimoana-Vaomu recorded a tackle on his own punt. Which it may seem unusual for most punters to make a tackle downfield, Carvalho said it's not out of the norm for Fonoimoana-Vaomu.

"He just wants to get in the action, so he's aggressive no matter where the ball is. The thing is he's a smart player, but if he knows that he can make the tackle, or make the interception, he's going to go for it," Carvalho said. "It's hard to teach aggressiveness, but for him it comes naturally."

Fonoimoana-Vaomu's first pick Saturday came late in the first half and as Campbell had just penetrated the red zone. He intercepted a Blaine Hipa pass at the Kahuku 4-yard line and returned it 24 yards to halt the Sabers' scoring threat and send his team into halftime with a 29-0 lead.

"Mana just read him all the way. The coaches and defensive players spend a lot of time watching film and he was in the right place at the right time, but it's not just a coincidence. It's by him studying and knowing formations and knowing what the opponents are going to do, so he put himself in a great position to make that play," Carvalho said.

After the Red Raiders went up 32-0 midway through the third quarter, Campbell benefitted from a pair of Kahuku encroachment penalties to extend its drive. However, Fonoimoana-Vaomu was Johnny-on-the-spot once again and came up with his second interception — this one he took back to the house for a 63-yard return and score.

"He baited the quarterback really good," Carvalho recalled. "If you watch it, I can see what the quarterback is thinking, but I know Hipa didn't get to step into the throw as much as he wanted to and once he hung it up — it was one our sideline, too — so you could just see Mana tracking it down and he just made the play and finished with a touchdown, so we were all happy for him."

It was Fonoimoana-Vaomu's third interception on the season.

"He's just a great young man. He's a great captain, a role model for other students in the school. It's not just about him and that's what makes him so special is he's very humble. He gives credit to his teammates, his coaches and he's very coachable," Carvalho said. "He's a coach's dream as far as an athlete goes."

The win over the Sabers not only punched the Red Raiders' ticket to next month's First Hawaiian Bank State Championships, it also sets up a rematch against No. 3 Mililani for the OIA title this Saturday.

"It built a lot of confidence in our players," Carvalho said of the victory, Kahuku's third in its last four games.

"Our players are peaking at the right time and at this point in the playoffs all the teams are deserving of being there, Mililani especially. They're a well-coached team, they're big and they're fast, so we've got to make sure we execute the things that we have been doing right to get us into this championship game," Carvalho said.

Kahuku's lone loss of the OIA season came at the hands of the Trojans back on Aug. 16, by a score of 32-0.

Fonoimoana-Vaomu and the second-seeded Red Raiders (7-3) will their crack at revenge against Mililani in the nightcap of a championship triple-header at Aloha Stadium Saturday.

Kaimuki and Roosevelt will meet in the D2 final at 2 p.m., with the D1 title game between No. 8 Leilehua and No. 10 Moanalua at 4:45 p.m. Kickoff between Kahuku and Mililani is scheduled for approximately 7:30 p.m.

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Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Grace keyed Kahuku, Konawaena

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