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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Castle High (Kane'ohe, HI): Solomon Koehler

Castle’s king-sized ‘ox’

Solomon Koehler's two-way play draws raves in Hawaii and nationally

WHEN Solomon Koehler pulls double duty, it usually means double trouble for the Castle Knights' football opponents. Each week, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound senior draws the toughest blocking assignment on the offensive line and anchors the Knights' defensive front.

"(Solomon's) as strong as an ox," said Castle coach Nelson Maeda. "We'll play him as much as we can."

Koehler is one of seven Castle iron men playing offense and defense. After dropping their first two games to Mililani and Kamehameha, the resilient Knights (2-2, 2-0 Oahu Interscholastic Association Red East) have won two in a row against McKinley and Moanalua.

Koehler and his teammates epitomize the team-first ethos instilled by Maeda, their veteran coach.

"You gotta give it up to guys like (Koehler) doing it on both sides of the ball," said Mililani coach Darnell Arceneaux, whose Trojans blitzed Castle 43-6 on Aug. 17. "That tells you what kind of kid he is, what kind of team player he is."

Over four games, Koehler has played every position along the offensive line except center.

"(Solomon's) a great run blocker, a great pass blocker," said Maeda, who also noted Koehler's faithful attendance at the clinics organized by Damien coach Brian Derby. "He's had his share of pancake blocks."

Koehler, though, prefers the defensive side of the ball.

"I have yet to see a lineman block him one-on-one," Maeda said.

"A lot of times in high school level, you'll take your offensive game plan and say, 'We're gonna do this no matter what,' " Arceneaux said. "It's a tribute to (Solomon) that you gotta make some adjustments (when you play Castle)."

Ranked the No. 3 defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com, Koehler lines up primarily at defensive tackle, drawing constant double teams and opponents' best blockers.

"As a father, seeing your son getting hit from all different sides like a pinball (is not easy)," said Solomon's father, Rick. "But whatever helps the team."

Consider Koehler's on-field success the fruits of his offseason labor. To help withstand the rigors of pulling double duty, Koehler worked hard on his conditioning. The work paid off with impressive performances on the camp and combine circuit locally and on the mainland.

Koehler enjoyed testing himself against competition outside Hawaii.

"When you go to the mainland, you're going against all new guys, so it's exciting," he said. "A lot of these guys look real strong, but they're timid. I just try to go all out, bring that island spirit."

Strong family support fuels Koehler's dedication.

"Every time I go (to a mainland combine), I gotta give everything I got, because I know how much my family's sacrificed to help me go," he said, expressing appreciation for his grandparents, John and Erlette Richardson, who paid for his trips.

Koehler's affinity for the Castle football program was nurtured by his grandfather, Charles Howser, a former Castle assistant coach. Starting in seventh grade, Solomon accompanied Howser to practice. "He was very close to his grandfather," said Rick Koehler.

The young, imposing waterboy shagging footballs was a fixture at the Knights' practice field. And Koehler was thrilled to play for his grandfather as a freshman on the Knights' junior varsity team.

"If I did something wrong, I would catch it from him all the way home," he recalled, smiling.

Two years ago, Howser suffered a serious stroke. He died later that fall.

"Solomon was devastated," Maeda said. "He took it very hard."

"Every time I step on the field, it brings back memories because he's not here," Koehler said.

Following the season, Koehler has been invited to play in the All-American Bowl in Jackson, Miss., in January. For now though, he said, "I'm just trying to focus on the team."

"For someone who's received the amount of attention he's received, he's very well grounded and has handled it very well," Maeda said. "He's very humble."

On Friday, Koehler and his teammates face an explosive Kalaheo team in an OIA East contest.

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