You had to see it to believe it.
In fact, you might not be able to manufacture a better football athlete in a video game. Yet, there he was, week after week, making play after play. The best part about Manti Te'o, at least for Punahou's coaching staff, is that the 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker/running back always found room for improvement.
Not that anyone besides Te'o, who obsessively studied video footage of opposing teams, was expecting more.
A senior season of 128 tackles, three interceptions (one of them returned for a touchdown), a punt block return for another score and a general fear by opposing teams of running at the speedy 'backer said plenty about Te'o's work ethic and preparation.
Coaches and media selected Te'o as the Star-Bulletin Defensive Player of the Year for a second year in a row. Fierce and friendly, proud and humble, Te'o was the cornerstone of a defense that allowed only 2.3 rushing yards per attempt.
Te'o made a quick believer of Wally Aina, who began coaching in 1970 and recently returned to the helm at Damien. In Aina's eyes, Te'o has no peer present or past.
"That's the thing. He doesn't remind me of anybody. He's maybe the quickest, fastest, strongest I've ever seen. The guy's terrific, he can do it all. Turn him around the other way and he can do it on offense, too," Aina said.
Had Te'o played more offense, it's not unfathomable that he could've won top honors on both sides of the ball. He rushed 30 times for 168 yards and scored four touchdowns. Of his three receptions, two went for touchdowns. With just 37 touches, including his two defensive returns, he accounted for eight touchdowns.
Punahou, of course, had more than enough firepower offensively, giving Te'o plenty of rest. Other teams found it better to just swallow their medicine than try to avoid a dose of Te'o.
"What I know is try not to run away from him. If anything, the only chance you got is run at him with all your guys in front," Aina said. "If you ran away from him, he'll get to the other side of the field in a blink."
Te'o is a big part of a bumper crop this season. The senior class is loaded with defensive talent in spite of Te'o's landslide numbers in the voting.
Farrington linebacker Isaiah Iuta was second in the balloting.
"If there were no Manti this year, he would be the No. 1 linebacker," Aiea coach Wendell Say said.
Iuta's quickness and speed made him a valuable part of one of the top defensive units in the state. Faster than most receivers, he was also tough against the run - important factors for a Governors team that faced run-first teams in the OIA Red East and pass-oriented teams in the postseason.
"Sideline to sideline, he's one of the quickest players I've ever coached," Farrington coach Randall Okimoto said. "At times, when he'd read the play from the other side of the field, he'd bypass all of the linebackers and make the play."
Farrington defensive end V.J. Fehoko and safety James Smith joined Iuta on the first team.
"Their leadership, even with only a few seniors, it worked well in terms of chemistry. The seniors led the defense and the underclassmen followed," Okimoto said. "We had guys willing to play as a team."
Two 'Iolani Raiders landed on the first team: defensive tackle Sealii Epenesa and cornerback Kela Marciel. 'Iolani's defense was the backbone of the program's third Division II state title.
Two members of Kahuku's stellar defense also earned first-team honors: safety Aulola Tonga and cornerback Jray Galeai.
Kapolei middle linebacker Simione Vehikite, who amassed 119 tackles and 10 sacks, also landed on the first team. Vehikite's progress was phenomenal after making the transition from defensive line, which he played as a junior at Lahainaluna.
Of the nine seniors on the first-team defense, only four have made college commitments: Wade Keliikipi of Waianae (Hawaii), Mana Rosa of Baldwin (Oregon State), Vehikite (USC) and Galeai (BYU).
Te'o had a growing list of 29 universities that offered scholarships before he lost count. His final-five list: BYU, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA and USC. Two of his teammates, Star-Bulletin first-team offensive players Dalton Hilliard and Robby Toma, have already committed to UCLA, as has Kapolei offensive lineman Stan Hasiak.
The list of awards for Te'o continues to grow. This past week, Sporting News named him high school athlete of the year. The week before, he was selected as the first-ever high school recipient of the Dick Butkus Award.
First-team DefensePlayer of the Year
Manti Te'o, Punahou
|Wade Keliikipi||Waianae||DT||Sr.||6-3||290 |
|Sealii Epenesa||'Iolani||DT||Jr.||6-2||300 |
|V.J. Fehoko||Farrington||DE||Jr.||6-0||218 |
|Manti Te'o||Punahou||LB||Sr.||6-2||235 |
|Isaiah Iuta||Farrington||LB||Sr.||6-0||201 |
|Simione Vehikite||Kapolei||LB||Sr.||6-1||243 |
|Kela Marciel||'Iolani||LB||Sr.||5-11||170 |
|Jray Galeai||Kahuku||CB||Sr.||6-0||177 |
|Aulola Tonga||Kahuku||S||Sr.||6-3||205 |
|James Smith||Farrington||S||Sr.||5-11||188 |
|Trevor Iosefa||Punahou||DT||Sr.||6-1||290 |
|Brad Iaulualo||Leilehua||DT||Sr.||5-10||215 |
|Chad Lopati||Kapolei||DE||Sr.||6-2||245 |
|Marcus Malepeai||Radford||DE||Sr.||6-2||245 |
|Sila Tonga||Farrington||LB||Sr.||5-11||213 |
|Kalua Ellis||Leilehua||LB||Jr.||5-11||215 |
|Jeremy Ioane||Punahou||LB||Jr.||5-11||188 |
|Alvin Fa'amasili||Farrington||CB||Jr.||6-0||165 |
|Kaipo Ke-a||Leilehua||CB||Sr.||5-9||165 |
|Sean McFadden||Punahou||S||Jr.||6-1||190 |
|Breland Almadova||'Iolani||S||Sr.||6-1||180 |
|Miah Fa'atoafe||Aiea||DT||Sr.||6-0||290 |
|Kona Schwenke||Kahuku||DE||Jr.||6-4||203 |
|Jonathan Fuimaono||Punahou||DE||Jr.||6-2||255 |
|Carl Gibson||'Iolani||LB||Sr.||5-11||200 |
|Kawehi Sablan||Castle||LB||Sr.||5-11||195 |
|Nate Hall||Leilehua||LB||Sr.||6-4||230 |
|Mina Gould||Punahou||CB||Sr.||5-11||178 |
|Lyle Santiago||Kapolei||CB||Sr.||5-10||175 |
|Hoku Kama||Leilehua||S||Sr.||5-11||170 |
|Cyril Ontai||Kapolei||S||Sr.||5-11||210 |
Coach of the Year
Kale Ane, Punahou
Led state champ Buffanblu with 128 tackles, punt block and interception returns for TDs
Leader of a stingy Seariders defensive unit.
Cornerstone of a defensive wall that permitted just 3.7 rushing yards per carry.
Speed rusher from the edge in the Governors' dominant defense.
Most dominant defensive force in the MIL since Kaluka Maiava.
Versatile and quick, strong against the run, faster than most receivers.
119 tackles, 10 sacks for an often depleted Hurricane defense.
Shutdown corner in the state's most prolific pass-happy league.
Combination of speed and savvy for Red Raiders' outstanding defense.
Superb against the run, blazing fast in deep coverage.
Great nose for the ball, physical and quick.
Averaged more than 40 yards per punt. Sure hands, speed and determination made him the best returner.