Growing up together in the same town, Joe Wong and Rod York always got along - even when they went head-to-head on the gridiron.
The two Waimanalo natives turned being teammates into becoming good friends. But they are putting their friendship aside when the Trojans play host to the Kailua Surfriders tomorrow night at Mililani High School as opposing head coaches.
“We go way back, we’ve always been good friends,” said York, Mililani’s head coach regarding his relationship with Wong. “And we’re good friends off the field. In the coaching fraternity, we’re good but on the field, there’s no friendship at all until after the game.”
For Wong, he’s bringing his Surfriders into battle, looking to ride the wave of adversity his team faces after losing starting quarterback Aaron Mejia to a collarbone injury suffered last weekend in Kailua’s 38-14 loss to Leilehua.
“We’re feeling good, with the exception to losing Aaron … We’re OK,” Wong said. “Cole (Weber) is our backup and he’s been in the system for the last two years, and we’re confident in what he can do.”
Kailua (4-3, 3-3 OIA) is looking for inspiration from anywhere after starting the season 3-0 before dropping three of its last four games. But even with just one game left in the regular season, the Surfriders aren't giving up hope.
“We had a chance to control our own destiny,” Wong said. “I mean, for the last three weeks. (Against) Castle, we took care of business, then Leilehua was up next and that was to solidify at least third place and a chance to play for second this week. But, you know, that didn’t happen … We still have an opportunity this week to solidify fourth place now, and it just goes down and down. It’s a little disappointing for the team, because they know they could’ve controlled their own destiny. We’re not counting on somebody else to lose so we can get in. We’re trying to win to get the seeding; a better seeding.”
To finish in fourth place, the Surfriders will have to drown out the noise of the Trojans’ fans, who will be celebrating the team's Homecoming Game.
Mililani (7-0, 6-0 OIA) is putting its undefeated record on the line to remain perfect going into postseason play. But York doesn’t care about the team’s record on paper; he’s more concerned with the attitude of his players when they’re on the field.
“We’re not so much worried about our opponent, we’re more worried about us and our attitude towards what we do,” he said. “No. 1 is our attitude. I feel like attitude takes care of everything else. The kids have been pretty good about it, but at the same time, they’re just kids. We’re going to make mistakes, but it’s about doing things the right way. It’s about being good from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.”
York said Thursday after practice that Kailua plays with a lot of heart, which will be on full display when the two teams take the field.
But Wong knows that sometimes, heart simply isn’t enough to win a football game.
“The ball is an oblong-shaped ball, it’s not round,” Wong said. “Sometimes it bounces your way, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
While the trajectory of the ball can’t be predicted, both Wong and York anticipate a battle tomorrow night - symbolic of their playing days as teammates.
“It’s basically me and coach doing one-on-one’s at UH. It’s a battle, who makes the mistake first in one-on-one’s: If you make the mistake in your technique, he’ll win. If he’s not on his, then I’ll win. That’s what it comes down to,” Wong said. “It’s going to be your regular Mililani vs. Kailua game. It’s going to be a battle, which we both know always has been. It’s the same mentality where we grew up: you got to scratch and claw for everything you got.”
Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at Mililani High School.
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