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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

MIL All Stars

One is the leader --- a sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker --- of a defense that took a big step in reigniting a once-proud program. The other is the unstoppable force --- a wide receiver --- that the entire league chased around without much success.

Maui High School's Kotoni Anitema and Baldwin's Ro Wilson --- Maui Interscholastic League Players of the Year for the 2009 football season.

While Anitema's presence for the Sabers was felt by opposing quarterbacks, ballcarriers and receivers with his crushing hits, Wilson's impact for the Bears was more measurable, with his 29 receptions for 547 yards and nine touchdowns --- all league bests by a wide margin in the eight-game season.

Wilson's touchdowns were perhaps where he stood out the most --- no other player had more than three touchdown grabs, and Wilson's mark is tied for the league's second-best in a single season, with Baldwin graduate Akamu Aki, behind the 16 touchdowns that current University of Utah receiver Chase Nakamura, also a former Bear, caught in 10 games in 2006.

Wilson was simply the most dangerous weapon on any offense in the MIL --- his 54 points also led the league, by 16. Perhaps his importance was best displayed in a game he missed --- Baldwin's 48-12 loss to Leilehua in the Division I state quarterfinals --- because of a school rules violation.

''How good? He is a great player now, he works hard, he has got the height, he has got the speed, he has got the hands,'' Baldwin coach A.J. Roloos said of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior. ''When you have got height like that, I mean, you just have to throw it up and let him go catch it --- and that is pretty much what we did this year.''

Wilson wears No. 81 because of what Randy Moss and Terrell Owens can do on the field.

''I see a little bit of Randy Moss in him,'' Roloos said of Wilson. ''He has got the height like Randy Moss and the long strides. He doesn't have the build like T.O., but he could have with some work in the weight room. He doesn't have the temper like T.O., he is a team player all the way. It is good he wants to be like them on the field.''

Indeed, Wilson was always quick to credit the Bears' quarterback --- first-team All-Star selection Brock Shishido --- and offensive line, from which

Sione Finau, Garrett Newton and Etuate Fineisaloi were named to the first team.

Roloos knows that after missing the state tournament and being the top target in the league this season, Wilson will be the Bear every team will try to stop in 2010.

''I talked to him and I told him, 'I hope you learned from it,' and he said, 'Coach, yeah, I learned from it,' '' Roloos said. ''We just have to move on, what is done is done. You can't turn back time, we can't go back and play Leilehua again. He just has to learn from here.''

Wilson said that he has turned toward the future after the violation that cost him the state tournament.

''The day I found out, I was really devastated,'' he said. ''I had to forget about it already and just move on. It was pretty hard to watch the game, but it just made me look forward to next year more.''

Asked if it has been a learning experience, he said simply: ''Yeah, a pretty big one.''

Wilson took the Player of the Year award, voted on by the MIL coaches, to heart.

''It makes me feel pretty good, it makes me feel like I am getting noticed more,'' he said. ''I want to play Division I in college. I think it was a pretty good season because I learned a lot for next year, but I am going to miss Brock a lot and the O-line guys.''

That D-I potential was shown clearly on a play during Baldwin's 24-21 win over Kamehameha Maui at Kanaiaupuni Stadium on Oct. 2. Wilson --- already with four catches for 84 yards --- lined up wide right, beat the defense on a hitch-and-go route and hauled in a 70-yard touchdown pass from Shishido with 1 minute, 22 seconds to play to provide the winning margin.

''That play showed exactly how good he can be,'' Roloos said.

Wilson, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., as a Michigan State fan, is currently playing basketball for the Bears' defending league championship team, and will return to track and field as a hurdles standout and 6-3 high jumper in the spring --- as a 12-year-old, he went to the Maui County Hershey's track and field meet, tried the standing broad jump and eventually finished fourth in the nation in his age group.

The offensive first team is rounded out by running backs Charles Spencer (King Kekaulike) and Aaron Ross (Baldwin), receivers Cameron Yip (Kamehameha Maui) and Kekoa Turbeville (Kamehameha Maui), offensive linemen Teanu Rickard (Lahainaluna) and Octavio Tan (King Kekaulike), all-purpose player George Chihara (Lahainaluna) and special teamer Ceejay Santos (Baldwin).

While Baldwin is the five-time defending MIL Division I champion, crosstown rival Maui High entered the season on an 0-24-1 streak that stretched nearly three seasons back. The Sabers erased that skid with a 21-0 win over Waimea in a nonleague game and then opened MIL play with a 19-6 victory over Lahainaluna. Seven straight losses followed --- some close, some not --- but Maui High was markedly improved in 2009 after back-to-back 0-9 seasons.

The Sabers' defense was one of the top units in the league before a late-season dip in which it was forced to be on the field for long stretches. Maui High allowed an average of 256.6 yards per game --- fourth in the five-team MIL, just 63 more than league-leading Baldwin.

Anitema, a 6-0, 225-pound senior, was in the middle of it all for the Sabers, along with fellow first-teamers Sioeli Malafu (defensive line) and Siueli Vaha (defensive back).

Anitema did it while battling a shoulder injury throughout the season.

''I feel good, but I was shocked because I got injured, so I thought I wasn't going to be on it,'' he said. ''I didn't miss any games, but I had a hurt shoulder. I dove for a tackle in the Kamehameha game in the first round (Sept. 11) and it hurt the rest of the season. It slowed me down and I couldn't practice.''

The rest of the first-team defense comprises linemen Pasoni Tasini (Baldwin), Layson Hoewaa (Baldwin), Jaret Nahooikaika (Lahainaluna) and Elvis Kamana-Matagi (King Kekaulike), linebackers Chace Bolosan (Baldwin), Maave Emelio (King Kekaulike) and Mitchell Loewen (Lahainaluna) and defensive backs Paula Toa (Lahainaluna), Matsu Kahakauwila (King Kekaulike) and Fifita Tau (Baldwin).

Anitema was limited to contact in one or two practices per week after the injury, and the fact that he was hurt in the game that started the Sabers' seven-game losing streak to end the season doesn't seem to be a coincidence.

''It helped me want to hit more, so come game time I was into hitting because I couldn't hit in practice,'' he said.

Anitema said that coach Roderick Fong and his staff have made a big difference for the Sabers program.

''Coach Fong is a good coach, all the coaches are good coaches, especially our defensive coaches,'' Anitema said. ''I want to thank them. The defensive coaches helped me a lot.''

Fong said Anitema has epitomized the work in progress on the Kahului campus.

''Kotoni is an outstanding player,'' Fong said. ''He can be playing in the upper level. The thing about Kotoni is he played injured from the first game. It was a freak one where he just dove after a guy and got injured. I was planning to use him all over the place --- offense, defense, special teams. In that sense, I had to limit his role in and out of the season, but every game he was ready to play and that is all I can say about him. He is just a great football player; he played hurt all year.''

Fong drew consideration for coach of the year, but his nod tipped the scales in favor of Lahainaluna's staff, led by co-head coaches Garret Tihada and Bobby Watson. The Lunas were 6-2 in the league and 6-4 overall, both tied with the Bears for the top mark.

''After we beat them in that first game, I think the way they responded really says it all about their program,'' Fong said. ''They always improve over the course of the season.''

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