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Thursday, October 05, 2006

It's all in 'ohana for Na Ali'i football

Posted on: Wednesday, October 4, 2006

It's all in 'ohana for Na Ali'i football

Na Ali'i photo gallery

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Last year, Lofa Li'ili'i was an all-everything All-State player for the 'Aiea High football team.

This year, his brother Daniel wants to do him better.

With 1,149 receiving yards, and stints at running back, quarterback and kick returner, Lofa set the standard high.

"He's trying to compete with me, looking at my stats from my junior year," said Lofa, a senior who was an Advertiser All-State first-team selection as a utility player last year. "It's fun watching him do it because he looks so good out there."

When push comes to shove, it's all brotherly love at 'Aiea. Because no matter whose stats are better at the end of the year, the brothers just hope it translates into success for Na Ali'i (2-3, 3-4 overall).

'Aiea hosts Leilehua Friday in its regular-season finale. The top five teams from the Red West division advance to the playoffs; 'Aiea sits in fifth place heading into the weekend.

'Aiea's junior varsity and varsity squads, which practice together, share 12 sets of brothers, and the family affair doesn't end there.

Other family members, including sisters and brothers as team managers and fathers and brothers as coaches, help keep Na Ali'i football a close-knit bunch.

"You sit and look at the list, and you don't realize it until someone points it out," said head coach Wendell Say, whose son Kalei is on the JV.

Most of the brothers on the team didn't realize they were a part of such a huge group of siblings.

"Yeah, when coach told us about it, we were tripping out," Lofa Li'ili'i said. "It's cool, because we can bond better and faster."

"I knew there were some, but not that much," said varsity quarterback Keenan Naeole, who recently broke his collarbone. "I thought there were seven or maybe five."

Keenan's younger brother, Kory, is a freshman quarterback for the JV. Both are left-handed.

"During practice, he's going through his things and I'm going through mine, and we're side by side," Keenan said. "It was different having to work with my brother, but it was also easy because I could teach him what I knew from last year, being the quarterback on the JV last year."

Kory said it helps knowing "there's family watching out," and that he does seek out the advice of his older brother.

When first joining the team, Kory wanted to be a wide receiver, but instead was picked to play quarterback. The transition was easier because Keenan already did it.

"He would always help me out. That's only when it comes to football, though," Kory said.

BROTHERLY BENEFITS

The Li'ili'i brothers take advice from each other "once in a great while," according to Daniel. But it still helps being able to receive advice from someone who has already been in the system for a year or two.

"I think it's easier on the coaches, because what they teach the older brothers, they (in turn) can teach the younger brothers," Lofa said. "It's like being another coach."

It's also a bonus playing with someone who knows you almost as well as you know yourself.

"It's better because they already know what we can do," said Daniel, a junior. "We know what their abilities are. We can work more as a team."

With most of the players with a brother either on the current team or previous teams, Say said, "they know what to expect.

"I think they keep each other in check," he said. "Either they both will pay attention or the other will and keep the other in check."

Another benefit of multiple players from the same family?

"It cuts things in half. You don't need to waste paper when you send out information," Say said jokingly.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Say pointed to younger siblings — future players elementary school-aged or younger — playing around on the 'Aiea dirt track during practices.

"All these little brothers come to watch," he said. "Hopefully, they'll be in the program one day."

Say said most years, 50 to 80 percent of the team is made up of players who are a brother, son, cousin, or somehow related to someone connected with the 'Aiea football team.

Say enjoys coaching family members because it helps to build a sense of tradition in the program.

"We wanted to establish a program that these guys can be proud of, and want to send their kids to the same program," he said. "Sometimes I laugh, because I think, 'You're just like your father.'

"It's such a neat thing. It doesn't feel that long ago."

The first time Say, who is the dean of O'ahu Interscholastic Association football coaches at 27 years of service, coached one of his former players' sons was in 1998 or 1999.

"It's going to be hard when I hit the grandkids. I'm going to have to retire then," he said.

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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