Iolani’s star defensive line proves size doesn’t matter

For Life

If you create a player in Madden, you could make a 7-foot-2 wide receiver or a 450-pound nose tackle. 

But the most fun thing to do is turn a player’s speed up to 99.

The Iolani football team plays a state semifinal next week. Its players may not be as big or tall, but the group as a whole has the speed meter turned up as far as it goes.

Defense wins championships. The ILH Division I champions this year, the Iolani Raiders, helped that old saying stay in style.

“What I felt was that the more they played together, that they could do something special, this group,” said head coach Wendell Look.

Iolani’s football team numbers went from low 30s last season to mid 40s this year. The sophomore class arrival plus the experienced upperclassmen equaled a tenacious group of undersized but quick-to-the-ball defenders.

“Especially my sophomore year, it was tough when you come to the games and you’re losing them and getting blown out,” said senior defensive back Kyler Mento. “Just getting better off of every game we play. It just feels good to be winning and playing well with each other.”

Study up on the Raiders and a couple guys jump off the film: Mento and junior linebacker Lanakila Pei. If it’s not one, it’s often the other in on a tackle. If it’s not a tackle, sometimes it’s a pick turned to points.

“Defensively, it kind of just helps to once in a while start a drive up or start something momentum up. I think this season, it was a lot of stepping up more than last year, and make more plays and get turnovers for our offense,” Mento said.

“If I make a pick, it’s because of the D-line putting pressure on the quarterback. If I make a touchdown, it’s because of the people that are blocking for me,” Pei said. “Yeah, I get the credit for it, but I know that it’s not me. It’s also them.”

Winning all three phases is a common key, preached by coaches. Both Mento and Pei have turned at least one kick or a punt into points this year.

“I was begging Coach Look sophomore year if I could return,” said Pei.

“I said, ‘Well, you’ve got to be able to catch the punt first,’ and he said, ‘I can, I can.’ And that was the greatest coaching decision I made, you know,” said Look.

The two are different guys. Their favorite video games, though both sports, might tell you a lot about who they are.

“I got to say FIFA,” said Mento.

“I’d have to go with UFC 2. I don’t know, I just like the competition that they have, and to see when you make a good punch or a knockout,” said Pei.

“Kyler is really quiet, really soft-spoken, keeps to himself, but again, leads by example. And Lanakila is kind of a free-spirit kind of guy, not a showboat, but likes to have fun out there,” Look said. “He likes to kind of joke around with his teammates, talks friendly trash to them every once in a while. So very different personalities, but again, I think that’s what makes their relationship and their play on the field so special, I think.”

Mento’s last state tournament is just around the corner. He’ll do it alongside his younger counterpart.

“He’s just been a role model and a big brother to me on this football team. To learn something not only from your coaches but from another player as well is awesome,” Pei said.

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