Kahuku believes it has a truly special team in the 2022 season, and the Red Raiders are forming their schedule as such.

On Sept. 30, the Red Raiders will host national power St. Frances Academy (Maryland) on its new-look turf playing surface at Carleton E Weimer Athletic Field on campus. The matchup will come two weeks after its road showdown against St. John Bosco.

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“We’re super excited. The community is super excited. We’re playing two top teams in the nation actually and I feel like we’re here to prove ourselves, prove our state, especially Kahuku,” star receiver, returner and reigning Cover2 Marcus Mariota Player of the Year Kainoa “Kaikai” Carvalho told KHON2. “Just a small public school going up against these big private schools just to prove to ourselves that we can play against the best.

“After last season, the success we had, we wanted to play the best and see where we stand. Shooting for the top and we’re very excited.”

After not having an official season in 2020, the Red Raiders went 10-0 in 2021 en route to its first HHSAA title since 2015. Because the vast majority of Kahuku’s best players were juniors in 2021, the stars have aligned for its 2022 season. The Red Raiders, who received their 2021 state championship rings on Wednesday, have turned the page towards what promises to be a memorable 2022 campaign.

Kahuku’s core four of Carvalho, safety Brock Fonoimoana and linebackers Leonard Ah You and Liona Lefau headline a generational 2023 senior class, which also includes defensive backs Chansen Garcia, Shaun Niu Jr. and Viliamu Toilolo Jr. Additionally, quarterback Waika Tamatoa Crawford and running back Clyde Taulapapa, who recently earned an offer from Army, are also seniors who figure to see increased roles.

As for its underclassmen, Kahuku reloads with sophomores Maximum Fonoimoana, Mana Carvalho and former Mililani star defensive back Aiden Manutai, who holds offers from Arizona and Hawaii. All told, the Red Raiders have over a dozen players with FBS scholarship offers.

With all the talent head coach Sterling Carvalho has at his disposal, he believes 2022 is the year to see where his team stacks up nationally.

“First of all, we’re grateful for St. Frances making the trip. It’s not an easy trip for someone from the East Coast. Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting that school. Visiting the players, the coaches and years we’ve been talking about if this could happen, let’s make it happen. Now is the time,” Carvalho said. “The timing is right and we’re able to play a powerhouse. They’re nationally ranked as well with St. John Bosco so we’re excited to get a type of team like St. Frances out here, the caliber of players that they recruit into their program, it’s gonna be great for our kids to see what else is out there. The speed, the size is different. We just want that challenge and we’re looking forward to that challenge.

“Being a public school and knowing that we cannot recruit, we just have the players within our community and we have great players in the past that have come through this program. But we felt this year, as well as last year, we are deep in the talent across the board. Not just deep defensively, but deep offensively as well. Special teams, we’re deep. So a team like this, like I said, it doesn’t come often. We want to really see where we’re at, give our players the experience to challenge the nation’s best, because that’s what they’re gonna be competing against on Saturdays and on Sundays for some of our players, so we just want to see and give them the opportunity to compete against the best to become the best.”

St. Frances, which is based in Baltimore, has established itself as a national power over the past half decade. After going 2-10 in 2015, the Panthers won three straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association titles from 2016 to 2018 before being effectively outlawed from winning any more state titles. The school has primarily played national competition since then, and has made numerous appearances in national top five rankings. By comparison, Kahuku has not been nationally ranked since 2016.

In 2020, St. Frances’ 2019 team was the subject of a four-episode release by HBO’s “The Cost of Winning.” In 2021, Kahuku’s team was documented for the show’s revival, which is expected to be released later this year.

St. Frances went 8-1 in 2021, with its final victory a 34-24 win over Florida’s IMG Academy that snapped a 19-game winning streak for IMG. The Panthers also participated in the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series in both 2017 and 2018, winning both games by at least four touchdowns.

Like Kahuku, the Panthers posses a talented senior class, with five of Maryland’s top 25 recruits for the class of 2023.

The Sept. 30 matchup between the Panthers and Red Raiders will take place at Kahuku’s revamped Carleton E Weimer Athletic Field, which hasn’t hosted a game since 2019 and has a new turf field and eight-lane track.

“Here on the North Shore, it’s a feeling of excitement,” Sterling Carvalho said of the new digs. “Finally, after decades of mud, holes, dirt, a swimming pool for our track, finally having a rubberized track and a turf field, everybody’s excited to see how now we are going to perform on such great surfaces.”

In addition to the two national powerhouses on its 2022 schedule, the Red Raiders will also play a mix of OIA and ILH Open Division teams to round out a challenging slate.

“We’re very stoked. The excitement on the North Shore is real. We’re just ready to show our community the type of team and the type of players that are in our community,” Sterling Carvalho said. “To come out here on a Saturday or a Friday night, to be playing in front of the home fans, in front of their families, their grandmas, their grandpas, their cousins, and just everyone here. There’s gonna be excitement in the air. The red sea is going to be here and Red Raider Nation is going to be rocking.”

Asked specifically about Kahuku’s game against St. Frances on the North Shore, Kaikai Carvalho says he believes the game is “gonna be something special. Packed house, everyone’s going crazy, a lot of tension building already, a lot of people asking us when the game is so I think it’s gonna be a really fun and exciting game.”

Stay with KHON2 online and on-air for Hawaii high school football updates all offseason. Additionally, Season 10 of Cover2 will premiere in the fall.