Nov. 14—Down in the trenches, no living creature is safe.
Fighting for inches, opposing forces amassing thousands of collective pounds clash, clang and maul each other for 48 minutes.
Down in the trenches, no living creature is safe.
Fighting for inches, opposing forces amassing thousands of collective pounds clash, clang and maul each other for 48 minutes. Eventually, one side gains advantage. One side takes control of the contest through sheer will, sprinkled with healthy doses of technique, positioning and strategy.
Iosepa Lyman began his football life at Punahou there. No glory, lots of guts. As a defensive lineman, he held down the fort as a fifth grader. He has since transformed into a four-position, two-way contributor who also has multiple duties on special teams. He is listed in oversimplified fashion on the Punahou roster : 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, running back.
His first experience as a Buffanblu left an impression seven years ago.
"My first memory is going to practice, it was a Tuesday. It was my first day, so I just watched. It was, 'Oh, crud, I'm actually going to play football. The next day, they asked what position I play. I said, 'D-line.' I wasn't built like a nose guard, but that's the first position they put me at, " Lyman said. "My dad said, 'Wherever they put you, just give it your all.'"
This season, Lyman's statistics in terms of yardage and touchdowns are moderate : 31 carries, 103 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns ; 22 receptions, 265 yards, two receiving TDs. There are playmakers aplenty on the roster, from Astin Hange to Noah Macapulay to Zion White. Kicker Carson Beard lights up the scoreboard compared to Lyman.
However, his value is in a currency that trench men understand on a survival basis in the merciless Open Division. Lyman's positions are off the chart : running back, wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker, long snapper, special teams coverage. It's a monumental effort for every title-contending team that leads to continual improvement despite failure. Punahou has evolved since losing consecutive games at Centennial (Calif.), 50-43 ; and Campbell, 38-23, in September. The Buffanblu then went 4-0 in ILH Open Division play and will meet OIA runner-up Kahuku on Saturday in the state semifinals.
"Any one of the other three (Open ) teams is a really good team. I wouldn't say the preparation is going to be different (for Kahuku ). Just knowing what happened when we played them last year at Mililani is going to help us prepare, " Lyman said.
In 2022, Punahou defeated Mililani in the semifinals 52-24, then lost to Kahuku 20-0 for the title. This year, Kahuku reached No. 8 in the MaxPreps national rankings. Then Mililani upset the two-time defending state champions last week for the OIA title.
"Everybody's just hungry to beat them because of the feeling we have from last season. When we were up on the mainland, everyone was doubting that we would have a chance of winning (against Centennial ). Even though we fell short, it was a big statement for us. The loss to Campbell motivated us even more, " he said. "It pushed us to work even harder. There's been a lot of ups and downs, but there's definitely been a lot more ups. Growing together as a brotherhood. We bring out the best in each other by working hard every day."
Buffanblu coach Nate Kia says Lyman is, without a doubt, the most versatile football player in the state. Kia has seen—and appreciated—the jack of all trades since their years together with the Metro Tigers youth football team.
" 'Sepa is a highly skilled football player who is really, really smart. A true student of the game, " Kia said. "But his strongest trait is his willingness to do whatever we ask of him to help the team. That clearly distinguishes him in this day and age. He values every opportunity he has to contribute—not just those that are comfortable and receive recognition."
He is the long snapper on field goals and point-after kicks. He never played tailback or fullback in Punahou's offset-I formation until sophomore season. As a WR, Lyman has come up with clutch third-down passes from Ty McCutcheon.
He is back at defensive line this season, the 3-technique responsible for interior and edge containment. Going up against tackles and guards who range from 200 to 325 pounds. If Lyman were a sumotori, he would be more Chiyonofuji than Akebono.
"His explosiveness really shines there, " Kia said.
Occasionally, he drops into coverage, using his elite football IQ and agility to create confusion for opposing quarterbacks. When he was with Metro, he played some quarterback.
"So I understood what the running back had to do, " he said.
He has played inside and outside linebacker positions. Just to make sure he rarely gets an extended break, Lyman is on special teams coverage.
"There's definitely times when I've been gassed or tired, but I know I have to look past myself and look at the bigger picture, " he said. "I normally just take a few extra deep breaths. If I really need to, I'll get out and get a sip. I just try to suck it up."
The complexity of his roles is relatively common at smaller schools playing in Division I or II. Open Division is where great athletes specialize. When the command came down, Lyman understood fully why he was needed as the Buffanblu's equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.
"I just look at it like we don't have the same type of players we had last year. On both sides of the ball, there are spots that need to be filled, that need some depth. Me being in the position I'm at, I know it's not going to be set up for me to make the play, but by knowing my job, I'm helping my team to hopefully get this title, " Lyman said.
Lyman has been durable through his career at Punahou, tough enough to withstand the miles of running, the blunt force of interior collisions. Humble enough to come back to the job every day with nothing but gratitude. Leaning on each other may be what the Buffanblu do best.
"There's not a lot of players with experience. For the most part, the starters are returnees. It's us seniors mentoring the freshmen. That's just the way the culture is, " Lyman said. "Some of these guys, their main experience is Big Boys league. Open Division is a different level of football, a different physicality."
As Punahou's "Mr. Handyman, " Lyman is not in uncharted territory. He and teammate Ala 'i Williams worked last summer on construction sites. The daily grind is a way of life.
"Fixing pipes. Building rock walls. That was my summer job. It was tiring, but it was manageable. We would go to work, then go to football practice, " Lyman said. "We started work at 4 or 5 in the morning, then practice from 4 to 6 p.m. We actually liked it. We used the circular saw to cut wood. It's a little dangerous, but it's more dusty than anything. We both worked equally hard. We'll probably go back during winter break. I try to save my money."
School is in that daily grind, too. Lyman has a 3.3 grade-point average, which is a key ingredient to his future. Arizona Christian, Whitworth, Pacific and Lewis & Clark have expressed interest in him. He has also heard from Nevada, Sacramento State and UNLV.
Handling the blue-collar life and academics are the bulk of Lyman's life. One of his passions, however, is music. His mother, Pomaikai Keawe, comes from a legendary, musical family. Lyman's cousins are former Punahou quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele—now on the roster at UH—and Campbell standout QB Jaron-Keawe Sagapolutele. Lyman plays the upright bass, sings and dances.
"John is the best at playing music and singing, " he said. "John being at Punahou was part of why I came here, but it was mostly Coach Nate from when I was playing at Metro."
There are a select few across the islands who have the versatility and the will to take on the workload like Lyman.
"Iosepa is one of the best players that we have in the entire state, " Waimea coach Kyle Linoz said. "Mana Carvalho (of Kahuku ) is among the best in every position he plays as a punter, returner, safety, wide receiver and slotback, and even at quarterback."
Kailua coach Joe Wong has seen a small group of handymen this fall.
"Iosepa is a special case and he deserves all the credit. The only other one is Kaimana Carvalho on what he does for his team, " Wong said.
Farrington coach Daniel Sanchez has lasting memories of Lyman and his father, Shane.
"I've known Iosepa since he was a water boy for us and his dad coached here. He catches the ball, runs it and makes huge blocks. You see him on the defensive side making tackles, dropping back in coverage. He plays special teams and makes plays there, " Sanchez said. "He is the total team player, and whatever is asked of him, he goes out there and gets it done. Not too many kids with the exception of Carvalho who play these huge roles on their teams."