Championship On Trojan Minds As Spring Game Arrives

Mililani head coach Rod York’s first priority for the 2013 season was making sure that his returnees had placed 2012 firmly in the rear-view mirror.

Not that it wasn’t one to remember. Indeed, a 10-3 football season and another trip to the Division I state tournament continued the program’s upward mobility, but the Trojans are still eyeing bigger goals.

“We want to be in that championship game and win it,” said York, who is entering his fourth year as head coach.

“We have a lot of questions to answer, which is usually the way it is in spring ball, but these kids understand that it’s a new team and a new year, and they’re determined to make their own mark.”

Much of the talk at Mililani this spring is on the offensive side of the ball, where six starters completed their eligibility from last year’s team, including quarterback Jarin Morikawa, who threw for 3,500 yards and 37 touch-downs. The Trojans averaged 32.9 points per game through 13 games last year with Morikawa at the controls.

As Thursday’s annual Mililani spring game approaches, junior McKenzie Milton and Saint Louis-transfer Robert Faleafine are vying to be the starter.

“Both are doing a great job right now, and both will play this year,” York said. “It’s a whole new offense for Robert, so we’ve been getting him as many reps as possible. He’s been with us since the winter.

“McKenzie’s attitude is his best attribute,” York added. “And that guy’s a play-maker. He’s mobile – he can run – and he can throw the ball, too.”

How well the rebuilt line can progress will go a long way in determining offensive success as three starters departed. York is excited about his stable of running backs, which includes Dayton Furuta (4.2 yards per carry; 15 touchdowns in 2012), Cheyne Constantino, Pakelo Lee and Saint Louis-transfer Vae Malepeai.

“It’s nice to have four good running backs, and our receivers coming up from the JV team are filling in nice.”

On the defensive side, the Trojans are more returnee-heavy with seven starters back in the fold from a unit that gave up just 106 yards per game on the ground.

In the trenches, York will be counting on veterans Rex Manu, KK Padello and Tamatoa Silva to set the tone for the defense. Although just a junior, Manu already is being recruited by Pac-10 schools. “Defense will be our key once again,” he said.

Elsewhere on the defense, Jacob Afele will anchor the linebacker corps along with Furuta, while York envisions Ian Namu, Lewis Ratleff and Jaren Zadlow holding down spots in the secondary.

This Thursday’s spring game, which begins at 7 p.m. at Trojan stadium, will conclude spring drills. In the coming weeks, the team will take part in summer conditioning and 7-on-7 pass-league games until official start of fall camp during the last week of July.

As in past years, York liked the approach his kids took during their off-season workouts. “We’ve normally had good off-seasons, and this group bought into what we’re doing and we had more guys coming out. We’re just reloading.”