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ASHSAA football changes — no playoffs, no championship game

Tafuna High School’s varsity and JV football squads, posing for Samoa News before a friendly scrimmage against the Wildcats late this summer, in preparation for the upcoming ASHSAA football season.  See more photos in slideshow. [photo: TG]
Pre-season Huddle: THS head coach says it’s now a different focus, and prefers the old way. Samoa News Pre-Season Huddle coverage of ASHSAA high school football is proudly brought to you by Congresswoman Aumua Amata.

Tafuna High School — ‘Home of the Warriors’ is prepared and ready for this year’s American Samoa High School Athletics Association (ASHSAA) football season. The school’s program remains under the leadership of head coach Kolose Ili, and comes in fresh — with its ban from playoffs reversed, as well as the format of the 2017- 18 ASHSAA football season changed.

The program had come under ASHSAA scrutiny after a fight broke out, involving fans and players during last year’s championship game. A Faga’itua football player was assaulted by a player from THS just seconds after the game ended — THS lost. Faga’itua’s school bus was also stoned by fans on their way home with the win, which led to DOE’s Li’a Matua Amisone banning THS from playing in the playoffs in the 2017- 18 football season, effectively blocking them from playing in a championship game.

During an interview with Amisone last year, he made it clear to Samoa News that letting Tafuna play, was the most lenient of his decisions, and what he decided was best – to showcase the student-athletes at Tafuna High School for football scholarship opportunities.

Amisone said at the time that the reality of this case was Tafuna High School’s football program should be banned for the whole season and should not participate in the league, period.

However, he said the nature of the ban would allow THS to play regular season football thereby giving their student-athletes, especially seniors, the much needed play time for possible scholarships.

However, according to ASHSAA, the DOE Sports Department lifted the playoff ban against the Warrior Nation early this summer during a meeting with the ASHSAA board.

And during this meeting, DOE and ASHSAA changed the format of this year’s football season — no playoffs and no championship game. Instead, the winner of the season will be based on ‘Best Record’ – meaning, whoever has the best record this year, will be the champs.

With this change, the Warrior Nation’s football program is also being allowed to participate in this year’s ASHSAA football season.

Samoa News spoke to Warriors head coach Ili about the decision to no longer have playoffs. He said, “The playoffs I think in football… is a whole other game, and that’s where the real fun begins.”

He continued, “I hope they go back to the playoffs and the championship format, because it’s really awkward to have high school football, and not have a playoff and a championship game. We’re preparing for what it is now – I’m hopeful they’ll change and overturn that decision two weeks from now.”

Ili added, “I think some of the things that were mentioned in regards to the changes are the safety and the finances, and I think we can address both those issues.

“I think it’s just a matter of the upper level folks coming together and making sure that things can happen,” the head coach said.

About the ban reversal, head coach Ili told Samoa News, “I’m glad it has been reversed, I don’t want to go into the details of it, but I would definitely have to say that justice has been served.”

After their loss against the Vikings last season, Ili said they have mended their wounds and are ready to come back out and put out their best.

“We have a lot of new players, especially on our defensive side of the ball,” he said.

“We lost a lot of good seniors along the way – so right now our focus is to provide some game time experience in the varsity level, like getting the kids familiar with the schemes, the proper fundamentals, developing the mental side of the game, and just basically building character in our team so they can mend together.”

Ili continued, “Our goal this year is the same every year regardless of what has happened the previous year – we’ve been on the field and we started our spring ball in March and we’re preparing for the opening of the regular season,” which kicks off this Saturday at 8:00a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Stadium.  The Warriors will face their rivals, the Eastern Star – Faga’itua Vikings, the defending champs of the ASHSAA football league.

According to Ili, Tafuna High School will field around 75 players overall for both JV and varsity for this year’s ASHSAA football season. “We have about 40 in our varsity and we have about 35 in our junior varsity program.”

The “majority of our varsity are from our JV last year, and the majority of our Junior Varsity consists of players from our JPS Warriors football team.”

When asked about some of the changes to their team this year compared to the past year, Ili said, “Not so much on the X and Os but more on the mental part of the game. To be able to finish games, that comes from mental toughness so – we try to keep it as simple as possible for our kids but at the same time, we want to be able to flip the script this year.

“Last year we had a lot of underclassmen as well, so the experience that were growing pains through the championship game hopefully we won’t have to endure and face the same dilemma again – hopefully we’ll be able to overcome those situations, given that they’ve … the experience.”

The Warriors head coach told Samoa News that their focus coming into the season will be different now due to no playoffs.

“The way you play the game is very different now, and I ask this question – I’m the kind of person that doesn’t run [a] score on people because I think that’s not the way the game should be. [However] … if we’re not going to have a playoff and we’re doing Best Record, then the point differential is going to matter.”

Ili said, “This is something also that people have to look at – and if it comes down to that, most of the coaches are going to be forced not to play their substitute players and leave the starters in for the rest of the game for that particular reason.”

“So this takes a lot out of football … my approach now is a cut throat approach from the get-go no matter who we play.

“For example, if I have a player that I would estimate his abilities to about 60% or 70%, I’m not worried about him and I’ll put him in because I know there’s a playoff, but now that they’ve changed … it, this takes a lot of perspective out of the game from my point of view,” he said.

Ili acknowledges and thanks the Warrior Nation and those who’ve helped him revive this year’s football program for a lethal comeback.

“This is our second year being at the varsity level, myself as well as my coaching staff, so the first 'thank you' goes out to my coaching staff for being out here and doing what they do.

“The coaches are not compensated for the work they do out here, so to be out here and take on these huge responsibilities with the numbers that we have, you really have to take your hats off to them.

“We would also like to thank our parents. The support from our parents, the support from our administrators, and the community as well.”

“I would also like to thank Director Jonathan Fanene of DYWA and Representative Manumaua Wayne Wilson for really spearheading our ASHSAA ban this year – and that is how important we need the help from the community.

“I think that it’s important for the schools, the communities, and the stakeholders to come together, because in the end it will result in a better environment and better future for our student-athletes,” Ili said.

He concluded, “Thank you all once again and good luck to all the other teams out there.”