Mules Rule!

Leilehua High coach Nolan Tokuda, linebacker Robert Siavii and quarter - back Andrew Manley lead the Mules to a state title

Steve Murray
Wednesday - December 19, 2007
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The 2007 state football champion Leilehua High
Christmas comes early: The 2007 state football champion Leilehua High Mules have plenty to say ho-ho-ho about in this December to remember

Watching Leilehua football coach Nolan Tokuda break down after a playoff win or seeing the coach dole out hugs to his players after a game, it’s clear the coach wears his heart on his sleeve. He also wears it on his chest in the form of a button that sums up the philosophy that helped the team through its inspirational run to a state championship - “Love Conquers All.”

At the end of the regular season, the Mules found themselves 4-4 and just barely making the playoffs. The season to that point had been a roller coaster of inconsistent performances, as the team bounced from a 41-0 win over Radford to a 21-0 defeat at the hands of Kapolei. The idea of competing for a state championship was incomprehensible, as the team, while together as individuals, was scattered on the field even though the talent was obvious. For the coach, who often let the drive to win and evening up old scores get in the way of what he was really trying to do, it was a wake-up call.

When Tokuda was first hired as an assistant, the Leilehua program was anything but dominant, going 1-7 and 0-8 his first two years on the job.

“Nobody respected us. Nobody wanted to play us in the preseason. They wouldn’t return our phone calls,” says the fiery coach, who not only had to watch the team lose, but sometimes suffer through the indignation of having the opponents run up the score on the then-lowly Mules.

“I told myself that if I ever get the opportunity, this would not happen. So I think I had this chip on my shoulder. I decided to do the same thing, so I made sure that the teams that rubbed it in on us got a taste of their own medicine.”

Tokuda’s aggressive style won games, but also got him into trouble with his athletic director, Richard Thompson, who didn’t particularly like the idea of his head coach using his players to exact revenge on other coaches.

Ronald Santos celebrates the moment
Ronald Santos celebrates the moment

“I was a real hard head then,” Tokuda admits now. “I told him, ‘You knew how I was when you hired me.’ That’s all I could think about. But when you talk about Leilehua High School, you talk about leadership, community and service, and I wasn’t living up to that.”

That all changed after his talent-ladened team - stocked with players who won the last two state JV titles - limped into the playoffs. The coach came to the realization that whatever he was doing, it wasn’t working and it was time to look elsewhere. Tokuda found it through the help of one of his assistants, defensive coordinator Mark Kurisu, and Waipahu High head coach Sean Saturnio.

“They got me into church and kept saying, ‘You’ve got to love the kids, you’ve got to love the kids.’ Once I surrender myself to God, that just changed our whole season. We were a totally different team. We went from a caterpillar to a butterfly and we trusted that we could fly no matter how high the wins were.”

While the Mules run a version of a field-stretching spread offense, it was the defense that was going to determine the team’s success. Led by line-backers Robert Siavii and Art Laurel and defensive tackle Kaumu Delos Santos, the plan for the Mules was to pound the opponents offense to the point where their offense could push across a winning score. Just as it worked during the regular season, it was expected to continue into the playoffs. That is, until both varsity quarterbacks, starter Kaipo Kea and backup Kaipo DeRego, were lost to leg injuries during the game against Castle High School. So, with no other place to turn, he put the team in the hands of sophomore Andrew Manley.

“I asked him, ‘How do you feel about coming up to varsity because we got our two quarterbacks hurt?’ He said, ‘I just want to have fun.‘This guy is not thinking about ‘I want to win, or I don’t know because we’re playing No. 1 seed Mililani for my first time on varsity under the lights.’ He just said he wanted to

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