The Main Man In Mililani
You don’t have to push very hard to get Mililani head football coach Rod York to tell you how he really feels. A couple of weeks after guiding his Trojans to their first-ever state high school football championship, a scintillating 53-45 win over defending champ Punahou, York was still very emotional about what the victory meant.
“It’s still sinking in,” he tells me. “People all over our community and all over the state are expressing their appreciation for our effort. I haven’t stopped crying.”
“Rod is a person who wears his emotions on his sleeve,” says wife Lynn. “He’s genuine and real in his actions. He’s not ashamed to cry in front of the team, nor does he hesitate to express how he loves them.”
“She’s my best friend,” Rod says of his wife, as he chokes back tears. “She’s there at practices and at games. The boys call her ‘Aunty Lynn.’ She loves our team as much I do. You have to be passionate and love what you’re doing.”
Rod met Lynn in the early ’90s when they were both students at University of Hawaii, and she has supported his efforts ever since. He had been an All-State player at Iolani, but he made the UH team as a walk-on, first at center, then the defensive line.
“As a walk-on, you have to do it right 10 times out of 10 to get noticed,” he recalls.
Rod got noticed by Hawaii head coach Bob Wagner, who eventually gave him a scholarship. “That showed he believed in me,” Rod says, pausing once again to compose himself emotionally. “It meant so much to say, ‘Hey, you’re a scholarship athlete.'”
Rod never forgot how much Wagner cared about him, and he carried his own appreciation of his players to stops as an assistant at Iolani, Leilehua and then Mililani, where he rose to defensive coordinator.
“He learned early in his coaching career that kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Lynn notes.
By this time, he also was a special education teacher, a job he also loves.
“I became a special-education teacher because I wanted to be a special-education teacher. I became a football coach because I wanted to be a football coach,” he says. “I thank my parents (Rod and Misi) for the opportunity to make these choices.”
When Darnell Arceneaux left Mililani for Saint Louis, Rod was named the Trojans’ head coach in 2010. He knew he could use some help. “I immediately went to two people who I really respected — Wendell Look (of Iolani) and Cal Lee (of Saint Louis),” he says.
Another person who made a big impact in Mililani’s success is former Hawaii and NFL star Ma’a Tanuvasa, the Trojans’ linebacker coach. “He’s here on campus (as Rod is) and that makes a difference. He’s the man!”
Rod says the success at Mililani was not overnight. In his first four years, his team finished third in the state twice and runner-up last year.
“This team wasn’t built in one year. It was built starting five years ago,” he says.
On a perfect late-November night this year, his Trojans put all that love and passion and hard work together to break out to a huge first-half lead behind red-hot quarterback McKenzie Milton in this monumental battle of unbeatens. Many people called it the most exciting high school football title game they had ever seen, with Mililani causing a fumble near the goal line to preserve the win in the final seconds.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of celebrations. “We are making our own history,” Rod says.
And Lynn has been there every step of the way during this joyous season.
“People are always asking us if we have any kids,” Rod says. “‘Not yet,’ I tell them. God blessed us with 140 kids, counting all the players on the varsity and junior varsity teams, and we love them all every day.”
In the championship town of Mililani, love for Rod and Lynn York just keeps on growing.