The Saint Louis Crusaders are more on a crusade than a cruise.
That’s why, at high noon, peak heat, sunny blue skies and just 24 hours away from the end of the school year, the defending state champions were at work. No pads, no helmets. Just a bunch of skill-position players grinding away on the artificial turf at Clarence T.C. Ching Field at Kalaepohaku. Not the typical 7v7 when some returning all-state defenders are swarming from sideline to sideline.
While other students went home or headed to senior graduation rehearsal, Chevan Cordeiro led the offense against a defense that includes all-state first-team linebackers Dylan Toilolo and Noa Purcell. With the coaching staff, including head coach Cal Lee and longtime quarterbacks coach Vinnie Passas looking on, it was loose, yet regimented. Cordeiro often was sharp, hitting post routes and crossing and out patterns flawlessly.
Still, the defense sparkled. While Cordeiro was precise to his slot receivers and wideouts, hurling a deep touchdown pass, Toilolo and Purcell came up with two of the defense’s three interceptions against the Cordeiro and his backup. Junior Kila Kamakawiwo‘ole Jr., son of the former Kaimuki and UH ‘backer, had the other pick.
It was the kind of test that Cordeiro, his backups and the receiving corps needs. It’s a heck of a way to gauge progress, going up against a back seven that was a big part of last year’s upset win over Kahuku for the state title.
Cordeiro looks like a different QB. With the nation’s best prep QB, Tua Tagovailoa, now at Alabama, Cordeiro is no longer the backup. He is also no longer a 160-pound string bean. The 6-foot-1 junior has packed on nearly 20 pounds of muscle through sheer work ethic in the weight room, along with lots of home-cooked meals by mom and grandma. He weighs in at 178 pounds now.
Receiving his first Division I offer, from Hawaii, last week was monumental for a passer who has started a minimum of games. In that sense, UH’s approach isn’t a lot different from what Oregon did some years back, offering a scholarship to then-backup Marcus Mariota.
“We were watching film and then Coach Ron (Lee) and Coach Vinnie told me that Coach Stutz (Craig Stutzmann) was here,” Cordeiro recalled of his first meeting with the former UH wide receiver and current offensive coordinator. “He watched me go over film. He didn’t say anything. He came to practice after that, two weeks later. Spring practice. He asked if I was going to the UH camp.”
Cordeiro told Stutzmann that he is unable to go to the camp. Then came the offer last week.
“I was surprised a little bit. He said, ‘I like the way you throw. You look good out there.’ I appreciate that they believe in me,” Cordeiro said. “They see my reads. They came to my practices. I’ve been working all year for this opportunity.”
Toilolo looks like he’s in mid-season form, and it’s almost unfair the way he and Purcell read plays and jump on the ball. Toilolo came to Saint Louis as a running back before Cal Lee politely poached him to play linebacker. Whatever the situation, he goes full tilt.
“Our coaches always want us to play 100 percent,” said Toilolo, who picked a pass in the flat for what would’ve been a pick-six. “They’re always on us.”
By 12:30 p.m., the informal workout was done. The brotherhood shook hands, players and coaches, in a circle. Not a day, not a hour or minute wasted for the Crusaders.
“We’re just trying to get better,” Passas said.