A quick look around the HPA’s practice field at the Upper Campus and something becomes readily apparent: this isn’t your grandfather’s, or even father’s, football practice — and that’s a good thing.
Gone are the days of high-impact tackling drills and players getting their “bell rung.” There’s no bone-crunching Oklahoma or Bull in the Ring drills. HPA head coach Kaluka Maiava and his staff are changing the culture of the program, prioritizing safety and teaching the proper way to play the game. Thanks to a recent gift from an anonymous donor, the program is now well-equipped to tackle its goals.
“A huge mahalo to our generous donor who enabled us to purchase the safest equipment that money can buy,” Maiava said. “Coach Scott Hendricks put a lot of research into the new gear. We were able to purchase new equipment in the weight room that enables our players to enhance their strength and conditioning program. We also acquired Riddel Speedflex helmets, practice ‘Guardian Caps’ that add an extra layer of protection over our helmets, Douglas shoulder pads, backplates and built-in padded girdles. All of this new equipment elevates our player’s safety in the weight room, on the practice field and on game day.”
Maiava, a Maui native and former Baldwin standout, has seen it all. He played his college football at USC under Pete Carroll, suiting up alongside fellow Trojan greats Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews in a linebacker corps that is mentioned as one of the most talented in college football history. He then went on to enjoy a six-year NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. In short, there’s no lack of expertise and Maiava has implemented knowledge from his various stops to reshape the priorities of the Ka Makani franchise.
“Our whole program is designed to maximize player safety. An integral part of keeping our players safe is our strength and conditioning program led by coach Po’o Kumu Ka’ai Spencer. This really sets the tone for the rest of the season,” Maiava said. “To optimize safety at practices we utilize dynamic warm-ups, perform daily rugby-style tackling drills, high speed/low impact drills and short practice times so that players are engaged mentally and physically the entire time. We also put a lot of time and effort into studying film and our plays so that players know exactly where they should be, what they should be doing and the proper technique in doing so.”
HPA will never run out the largest roster in the league, so passion and heart are attributes valued above anything else by Ka Makani. Keeping them safe and suited up is a big part of the battle to stay competitive with other teams on the island and that starts with practice.
“Ensuring our players are safe and finish injury-free is the number one priority. We really focus on the small details and execution of the plays without beating up on our bodies,” Maiava said. “The physicality in our practice plans is designed to have players peaking on game day to be in the best position possible physically and mentally. Our two main goals are to have a blank injury report every week from our athletic trainer and to dress 100% of our roster every single game.”
Maiava is not ignorant to the fact that there’s been a growing concern about the safety of the sport in recent years. However, as a father himself, he understands those concerns and feels like the HPA program has gone above and beyond to keep the players safe.
“We put a huge premium on player safety. Collectively, we have the best strength and conditioning program in Hawai’i, the best athletic trainer in Hawai’i, and the safest equipment on the market. Our practices and drills are designed to maximize success and minimize injury.” he said. “Can I promise your child will not get injured? Unfortunately not, as football is a contact sport and accidents do happen. What I can promise you is that we will overtrain proper technique, proper leverage and our players will know exactly where to be and how to execute each play.”
Look Good, Feel Good, Play Good
NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders said it best: “If you look good, you feel good, If you feel good, you play good.” Along with the safety equipment, the gift also provided new uniforms. Ka Makani will have three sleek options to wear as jerseys — red, white, and black.
“There is just something about fresh uniforms that bring out the best in players individually and collectively as a team,” Maiava said. “When you grind out all the hard work during the summer together, put in so many hours weekly at practices together and then get suited up together in fresh new everything from head to toe, it’s a feeling that cannot be described.”
HPA staged a turnaround in Maiva’s first season back in 2019, playing for the BIIF Division II title but coming up just short. Ka Makani are set to return to the field after a long year off in October and Maiava and his staff are looking to build on that momentum.
“Our goal is to win the BIIF title, win the Division II state title and dress 100% of our roster every game. I feel the best is yet to come with our football program,” Maiava said. “It takes time to grow a winning culture and our entire program has bought into our plan for success without any hesitation. To say we are excited for the upcoming season is an understatement. We have been training extremely hard physically and mentally to the point where we do not hope to win, we deserve to win.”