KAHULUI — The smile on Ofa Falekanono’s face runs the gamut of delight.
The sly smile he walks to football practice with, the ear-to-ear beam he wears on the bench, the hard-to-spot smile he has when he does his
working tirelessly on the gridiron – they’re all part of Maui High School’s junior linebacker’s love of football.
“I have to be funny every day” Falekaono said with a smile before Monday’s practice. “You have to have a positive attitude, you always have to have people laughing and make everyone feel good – it’s the way you want them to express their feelings to you, being happy and stuff.”
Falekaono showed up to the Maui Interscholastic League in a big way in a short stint in 2021.
“Ofa as a sophomore, because of all the COVID issues we had last year, he got a late shot and only played in three games last year, but he had 58 tackles.” Maui High coach Aylett Wallwork said. “So, he was actually a leader in his second year. He is the leader of our defense right now as a junior.
“He’s doing pretty well, he’s making good progress, very good reads, very good instincts and keeping everyone in line.”
Falekaono’s love for the game was born long ago when Ofa was a young boy who began to follow in the footsteps of his brothers Atu and Lafaele Falekaono.
Advice from his older brothers (Ofa played with Lafaele last season for the Sabers) is often football-related.
“What we talk about is what is happening in the field”, said Ofa, who is 5-foot-10 and weighs 215 pounds. “And what are some techniques that I need to use and how can I help the other positions with techniques that they can use. And then we only talk about cinema, cinema is the only thing we need to see every day.”
Ofa Falekaono has college football on his mind and he has a chance to do it with his play on the field and a solid 3.5 grade point average.
“I think about going to college and playing football, my grades are good, I try to keep up every day.” he said.
Falekano said “Honestly yes and no” when asked if he feels he is a leader of the Sabers. He’s the one who calls out the start cadences for all the warm-up work and drills at Maui High practice.
“We have to tell everyone what we want to do on our assignments and focus on what our assignments are,” he said. “And then, we are all a leader. I’m not going to wear it alone, we’re all like a team”.
He takes it upon himself to teach some of the younger players at Maui High what it means to be a Saber.
“I tell them what we have to do and stuff,” Falekanono said. “We all have assignments and techniques to work on. … Even during the game we tell ourselves what we have to do and what we see out there.”
Atu Falekanono played former MIL Defensive Player of the Year Feleti Afemui, a recent Vanderbilt graduate and the first player from Maui to win a football scholarship to an SEC school straight out of high school.
Afemui is now a physical education teacher at Maui High and is helping coach the football team that includes his brother, Mosese Afemui, a 6-0, 240-pound second-year defensive lineman who is a close friend of Ofa Falekaono.
“I watched him over the years, I was watching him, me and Mo,” Falekaono said of Feleti Afemui. “I talked to him about college football and he said it’s a very competitive level, it’s competitive up there and the main thing he wants us to do is keep our grades up, every day you have to do your thing.”
Feleti Afemui has been keeping an eye on Ofa Falekaono ever since she saw him in the fields of Pop Warner with his younger brother. When she was asked if there are any similarities between him and Falekaono, Afemui told her vehemently. “No.”
“Ofa is just her own man”, Afemui said. “All the qualities and traits that he has, that’s up to him. He has nothing to do with me, it’s all him. All that he has learned, that is all he is. He developed on his account.
“As Saber, I am so proud to see the way he has grown and developed, and just to see the incredible job that (Maui High linebacker) Coach Nolan (Au) has done, raising him from Pop Warner to Big Guys up to here. Is awesome.”
Falekaono and Mosese Afemui lead the defense of Maui High with laughs, no doubt, often trash-talking each other about who has the best hair. Nathan Russell, Aizley Lakalaka, Kupono Soberano and Viliami Vakalahi are also key contributors to the staunch defense.
The Sabers (2-1) lead the MIL in defense, giving up just 139.7 yards per game and producing three shutouts in four games, including preseason.
“This defense is very good”, Ofa Falekaono said. “We’re all out there being competitive and stuff. We all talk a lot and that’s the main thing. We just have to do our homework and keep doing what we have to do, listen to the coaches because they are going to tell us the right path, the path to the championship”.
*Robert Collias is at [email protected]