The O'ahu Interscholastic Association's White Conference is officially classified as "Division II," but this season the nine-team division is not short on Division I talent.
As in, NCAA Division I.
At least eight players — probably more — are considered to be legitimate major college prospects.
Waialua offensive/defensive lineman Graham Rowley is ranked among Hawai'i's top recruits; he has made a verbal commitment to play for Brigham Young. Teammate Micah Hatchie has received recruiting interest from several Pac-10 schools, in addition to Colorado and Louisville.
Pearl City offensive guard David Lefotu has made a verbal commitment to play for the University of Hawai'i, as has Moanalua O-lineman Frank Loyd and linebacker Lasi Eselu. 'Aiea's Lawrence Lagafuaina (OL/DL) and Api Foumai are regarded as DI prospects, and Moanalua tight end Richard Villasenor is receiving strong interest as well.
The OIA White season opens tomorrow, with Kalaheo at Moanalua and Kaiser at Waialua. On Saturday, Kalani plays at 'Aiea.
Here is a closer look at each team:
'AIEA NA ALI'I
Coach: Wendell Say.
Notable: 'Aiea opened with a 24-3 victory at Roosevelt, but lost starting quarterback Freddy Taliulu in the process when he went down with a right (throwing) shoulder injury. Lagafuaina and Foumai each had two sacks in helping 'Aiea limit the Rough Riders to 58 yards of total offense. Thompson caught five passes for 70 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown throw from Ka'aha'anui early in the second half. Va'a had an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown.
'ANUENUE NA KOA
Coach: Kealoha Wengler.
Players to watch: RB/CB Ikaika Gante; RB/LB Kalani Pua'oi; RB/DB Opunui Nahale'a; RB/S Keli'ikoa Aki; RB/CB Kaipo Cullen; RB/DB Kakela Lee; RB/DB Hemakana Yam-Lum.
Notable: Na Koa are thin on numbers again, but have 10 returning starters on defense and eight on offense, so Wengler and his staff are looking for more versatility from each player. "Instead of asking them to learn one position on offense and one on defense, we're having them learn two positions on each side," Wengler said. "It gives us more depth." 'Anuenue opened with a 26-20 victory at Kamehameha-Maui. Gante rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries and Pua'oi added 93 yards and one TD on 11 rushes. Na Koa rushed for 331 yards overall.
Coach: Pat Samsonas.
Players to watch: RB/LB Shogo Inagaki; DB/RB Josh Gonda; QB Teli Latu; RB/DB Jesse Kauhola; OL/DL David Nohara; OL/DL Justin Dietz.
Notable: Samsonas said, "We have a very young team." The Cougars' youth was exposed a bit while falling behind 30-0 in the first half against 'Iolani last week, but they regrouped in the second half and ended up losing, 30-19. Latu completed 16 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown. Kaiwi Ramseyer caught five passes for 55 yards, and Josh Perry-Kruse had three catches for 60 yards.
Coach: Chris Mellor.
Players to watch: QB/DB Phil Tauai; RB/DL Eddie Tauai; OL/DL Edward Atanoa; RB/LB Jesse Carney; OL/LB Elijah Mataele.
Notable: The Mustangs opened with a 34-7 victory over King Kekaulike on Maui, and have big plans for this season. "We expect to make it to the state tournament," Mellor said. "We think that is a reasonable goal." Phil Tauai, a returning starter at quarterback, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another against King Kekaulike. Mellor said Carney is a big threat running the ball.
Coach: Greg Taguchi.
Players to watch: QB Gavin Okada; RB/LB Jun Cho; DB Chancen Schutter.
Notable: The Falcons are thin again, with only 28 players on the roster. Lack of size again will be an obstacle; only one player weighs more than 215 pounds, and 23 of the 28 on the roster weigh less than 185. They opened with a 16-0 loss at Kapa'a.
MOANALUA NA MENEHUNE
Coach: Arnold Martinez.
Players to watch: WR Michael Egami; RB Tajhe Canyon; DL/TE Richard Villasenor; DB/WR Xavier Peterson; OL Frank Loyd; LB Lasi Eselu.
Notable: Martinez is comparing this year's team to the one in 2005 that reached the Division II state tournament. Moanalua has 10 returning starters on offense and seven on defense. "We should be more than productive," Martinez said. "If we're going to do it, we should do it now." Martinez said this team's strength goes beyond talent. "They have a great demeanor. They're not 'me guys.' "
PEARL CITY CHARGERS
Coach: Kai Kamaka.
Players to watch: LG David Lefotu; RB Ray Cooper; SB Jarrick Duvachelle; QB Isaac Shim; MLB Cyrus Coen; LB Hayden Concepcion; CB Christian Aragosa.
Notable: The Chargers got off to a rough start, losing their opener, 37-7, to Castle. They trailed 37-0 after three quarters. Pearl City has seven returning starters on offense and six on defense. Kamaka said the Chargers have quickness at the skill positions.
Coach: Fred Salanoa.
Players to watch: OL/DL Monty Wright; OL/DL Kamu Taulelei; WR Zach Lagier; RB/LB Tama Fiaseu; DB/WR Tevita Baravilala.
Notable: The Rams, defending Division II state runners-up, showed they should be considered a contender again with a strong outing against defending DI state runner-up Leilehua in last week's opener. They lost, 23-20. Lagier caught five passes for 63 yards; the defense intercepted All-State quarterback Andrew Manley twice and held him to 18 completions in 38 attempts.
Coach: Lincoln Barit.
Players to watch: OL/DL Graham Rowley; OL/DL Micah Hatchie; QB/DB William Sacapulo; DB/WR Branden Galapia; RB/WR/DB Kamalei Rosa; DB/WR Tommy Escorzon; DB/WR Destry Lunasco; RB/WR/DB Travis Deuz; LB/RB Kaimana Tayaba-Hatchie; LB/RB Christian Whittaker; LB/OL Rudi Galapia; DL/LB/OL Keanu Kalulu-Keao; OL/DL Chris Acasia; OL/DL Nati Fuatiga; OL/DL Karl Lele; WR/DB Branson Chun.
Notable: The Bulldogs have two major college recruits in Rowley and Hatchie, but several others put in the offseason work and attended combines and camps. For example, 14 Waialua players participated in the Eighth Annual Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance Football Combine.