The 1979 Kaiser Cougars rolled and rolled all the way to the Oahu Prep Bowl, where then-head coach Ron Lee led them to a 27-7 victory over Kamehameha.
In the years that passed, he continued working at a hotel while assistant coaching at Saint Louis (with brother and head coach Cal Lee), then the University of Hawaii, Kalani and finally back at Saint Louis. He remains the offensive coordinator, one of the original run-and-shoot gurus, here and elsewhere. Times change, but Lee keeps honing his craft.
Saint Louis, the top-ranked team in the state, takes on Kahuku this Saturday night in the Open Division final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships at Aloha Stadium. Coach Lee chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Sunday about record-breaking Crusaders Mitchell Quinn and Chevan Cordeiro, and former players like Noah Brum (Kalani).
Saint Louis football
HPW: Mitchell Quinn. 307 yards, five touchdowns against Mililani. Four TDs against Narbonne (Calif.) So far, 36 catches for 967 yards, 15 TDs. Are you surprised?
Lee: Yeah somewhat, but he didn’t play much last season. I can’t even remember what he did at Intermediate and JV. He’s been on the varsity I think two years only. So I’m kind of surprised, but I felt he was going to have a good year because of his speed. He really excels in soccer and track, and he works hard on his speed. Where he was fourth or fifth in the 100 last year. Roman Wilson was No. 2. I watched him in pass league and in the 7v7 league, and he’s really turned it on. He played on the same team with Chev and Jonah (Panoke) and they just really did well in that Vegas Pylon. I felt real optimistic about him going into this season. Then he did really well in our summer workouts and 7v7 leagues.
HPW: Talking with Mitchell, he seems to be training and studying non-stop, year-round.
Lee: His work ethic is tremendous. He maintains his strength and speed with Jack Cambra, kind of like his private trainer, with his acceleration, power, get-offs. His strength. Normally at this time of season, our guys slow down, they’re tired with all the running we do, but his workouts with Jack have really helped. He’s getting faster. Jack has a great program. He works with our receivers and offensive linemen. He originally started with our O-line, conditioning and in-season. He also has a program in the offseason and he’s done wonders with the O-line.
HPW: How often does Jack work out with them?
Lee: Three times a week, after practice, stretching, running, plyometrics, he’s cross-training. Weights. Not heavy, heavy. I wanted them to maintain their strength. What I see, they’re not only maintaining, they’re getting stronger. I want to talk to Cal about if he can do this with everyone. It started with Nate (Herbig) and he swears by Jack.
HPW: It sure seems to work. He’s got burst that gets past defenders who have angles, and there was one play against Mililani where the second-level guy shot at him, and he was already a stride away from the sideline. It was so not normal.
Lee: I see how explosive Mitch has got, just running by everybody. We’ve got one more game, I hope he gets by Kahuku. They’re pretty good on the outside.
HPW: Is the Intermediate level (ILH) where the players start mastering reads? Your route tree is basically calculus for receivers.
Lee: In Intermediate, we’re satisfied with them learning fundamentals, the basic fundamentals of our system. Catching the ball properly. We let the coaches do a lot of their own stuff. What I’m trying to focus on with the younger guys is track and running. I’m going to encourage them to go to Jack. Some of them go to Kenny Patton, too. Mitch, Jonah and some of the slots, they work out. Koali (Nishigaya), Zhane (Chang-Holloway), and they’re getting faster. It shows that we could accelerate more on in the offseason. That’s making a difference this season. I don’t think we’ve ever been as fast, as a bunch, as we are this season.
HPW: Woh, the fastest? Going back all these years when you’ve had great receivers?
Lee: When I think about the speed, I don’t think we’ve had guys who could run 10.7, 10.8. We’ve had some really good receivers, but flat-out speed? Wilson ran like a 10.8 and he’ll be a 10.6 guy. Mitch ran a 10.9 so he was right behind. Jonah didn’t run track, but he’s explosive. Those three guys alone with that kind of speed. We had guys who run 11 flat, 11.1, but to run in the 10.8s that’s pretty fast.
HPW: Let’s go back to the Mililani game. Trojans lead early, and it’s 23-10 late in the first half. Saint Louis drives to the 1, stonewalled, half ends. Then it’s a collection of short passes, and Mitchell Quinn takes hitches and screens to the house, all 50-yard plus catch-and-runs. Their defense and that cornerback had never seen the kind of burst all season.
Lee: They only had one guy on him. That particular series, Chev could go either side or run. With the numbers, he had single coverage, the rest was all Mitch. The thing I forgot to mention, Mitch has that football speed, not just a track guy. He has another gear. Some plays, he had guys in front of him, but when he went to the side, he just exploded. Catch that hitch, get out of there. He’s not a real big guy, but with the training with Jack, he has that explosion, just running by guys who have the angles.
HPW: He got a scholarship offer from Hawaii. There will probably be more coming soon.
Lee: He deserves it. He works hard. I think he’s going to be heavily recruited because he can play football. He’s smart and he makes plays when there’s coverage. He goes over the top and comes down with the ball. When he runs track and he’s working out with Jack, I would not be surprised if he gets a 10.6, 10.7 100 meters. He’ll be heavily recruited.
HPW: Hawaii might be ideal. A chance to play early, maybe.
Lee: It depends where he could go to school, I don’t know if 10.6 or 10.7 is enough for a major college, but he’d be 4.4 in the 40. That’s a nice situation. Prior to this year, he didn’t have choices. In track, he can really improve on his get-offs. His body type, short trunk, long legs for a guy 5-10, 5-11, so he’s real deceptive. When he’s 10, 20 yards out he starts to open it up. It’s really the get-off.
HPW: He had that one celebration dance and got a penalty, but all the other times, he’s been pretty quiet.
Lee: He’s humble, but he’s got the confidence. He doesn’t strut it around. He has that inner feeling, he’s confident in what he can do. You don’t have that, you’re fighting an uphill battle. What’s happening with him and Jonah and the other receivers, they have confidence. Chev is kind of like Mitch. He didn’t play much (as a junior), but he’s getting his chance in year four. Everyone’s going through this process where they’re getting so much better. He’s a different guy from the start of the season. Guys are getting better at learning the offense. We’re playing a lot faster now.
HPW: It’s been intriguing how the depth at WR is 20 deep each year now.
Lee: We lost a lot of guys, pretty much all our offensive linemen. We lost our slots to graduation. Tosh (Kekahuna-Kalawe) is still hurt. These guys are all relatively young. Mitch hardly played (last year). Jonah played at the end of last season, he was dealing with injuries. Nalu (Reyes-Hackney) has hardly played. Leelan (Oasay), Noah (Alejado), (Ronson) Young all graduated. And of course, Tua (Tagovailoa). All our RBs are gone. When you think about it all we had back was Eliki (Tanuvasa), our center, and Arasi (Mose), two offensive linemen. These guys are playing pretty good football, playing together. We’ll see.
HPW: It’s almost easy to forget the four years you and Coach Cal spent at Kalani right before you returned to Saint Louis. Ending the losing streak. Making the playoffs.
Lee: The culture changed. Just like with us. The culture is changing, even Cal’s first go-round, when you play for Saint Louis, if you want to play, you have to work hard because of the competition on the team. We have about 100 kids, and you can only play 11. We have 20 receivers and you can only play four. If you don’t work hard and get better, you’ll have a hard time getting on the field. We had a lot of injuries at receiver, but guys step up. The two starters, Chris Sykes (collarbone) and Makoa Close (ankle, hamstring), got hurt. Chris is set at Dartmouth. They were the returnees. When we lost them, Mitch had to step up, Jonah was going back and forth (injuries), then Roman got hurt at practice. Tosh is still out.
We lost a lot of these receivers, but these other guys have stepped up. Mitch, Jonah, Nalu, Koali, they’ve been practicing and playing together now for a half a season, so we’re getting in a rhythm. Then you get in the playoffs and you have to wait for three weeks. This game was really good for us to get back in a groove. We had a slow start, but we got out of this relatively injury-free.
HPW: Last week, I was thinking about the big running backs Saint Louis used to utilize back in the 1990s and 2000s. Guys like Prince Brown, a bulldozer who definitely helps in short yardage. I mentioned to coach Cal that maybe you guys tinker and talk about possibilities, like (linebacker) Noa Purcell in short yardage.
Lee: I would love to use some of those guys, but I believe you’ve got to spend time practicing. I don’t like to take a guy for 10 minutes and try to teach him how to run stuff for the 11 (formation). We can practice it as a team. One thing Cal likes is to pound that ball in there, but I don’t keep track, but to me anyway, I don’t see a problem. Everybody has problems. Look at Kahuku, they struggled with their elephant to get it in (against Waianae). I like it with the spread. Then you have a chance. I don’t think we’re that bad in the red zone. At one time, they used to say the spread offense, in the red zone you run into problems.
HPW: With a dual-threat QB, the triple option is tough to stop at the goal line.
Lee: Everyone’s bigger now and we don’t spend a ton of time on run blocking. We spend most of it pass protecting.
HPW: Let’s go back to Mitchell Quinn. Where does he fit at the next level?
Lee: It depends on where he goes to school. He’s got some ability, no question. If they don’t throw the ball, coming from a school like Saint Louis where we throw all the time, and he goes to a school where they try to establish the run. I’ve even talked to Tua, where even Alabama doesn’t throw a lot, except when he goes in, they throw a little more. I think Mitch should look at where he can excel, and that’s at a school where they throw the ball, a school that’s running the spread and throwing the ball.
HPW: Like a Washington State maybe, throwing the ball 60 times a game?
Lee: He can do his homework. Even if you go on a scholarship and they don’t throw the ball, what’s the sense. Same with Chev. McKenzie (Milton, formerly of Mililani, now at UCF), look how he effective he is in the offense. I don’t know how he would do at UH. The system has a lot to do with it. But Mitch and Chev will make the right decision.
HPW: There’s Larry “Tui” Tuileta on the football team at UH now. He was a terrific QB at Punahou.
Lee: I saw Tui play in high school. If he came out for football and I was coaching, I would give him a chance. What I admired most about him was he’s a winner. Not the strongest arm, but he wins and he makes plays. The leadership. That guy has charisma and he could be the star that helps Rolo (Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich) get people in the stands. A Timmy Chang or Colt Brennan. Then again I don’t know what Rolo’s system is.
HPW: It’s tough to tell from the outside when Tui’s been volleyball only the past few years.
Lee: He’s been out of football for awhile. I can see where Rolo can’t spend time with the guy who’s gone half the year with volleyball. When I was at UH with June (Jones), it’s not just Colt or Timmy, it’s the receivers. You look at Tua and even Chev now. He completes 24 balls out of 31 or so, it’s knowing the feel to each other and understanding the coverages and routes, and the receivers play a big part of that. Chev had 500 yards passing, but it’s really the receivers are fast, they run good routes, they make the catches and they have a feel for each other. That’s the same thing with Timmy and Colt, they had Davone Bess and those guys. They weren’t incredibly fast, but they understood the offense and they look real fast.
HPW: I haven’t seen much UH football with my work assignments, but what do you see?
Lee: That is what I think Rolo is missing on offense. They have a good running game, but the passing game isn’t there. Normally, they blame the quarterback. He doesn’t have a great arm, but sometimes it’s the receivers. And they had injuries, and it ruins the timing. Everybody’s got work to do, but you’ve got to love it. I wouldn’t put too much blame on Dru Brown. A lot of it is everybody being on the same page. Of course, the QB throws an interception or bad pass and they say it’s Dru Brown. Sometimes, they might mess up on reading the coverage. That’s what we emphasize a lot on at Saint Louis. The QB needs to know where the receiver’s going to be. There’s a rush coming, the ball needs to get out.
HPW: Well, one thing that still fascinates me is that so many offenses have adapted and adopted new wrinkles over the past 10, 15 years whether it was a jet sweep, or wildcat or read-pass options. And you guys keep running the same offense from 1999.
Lee: That’s all we know. We’ve been doing this just like June, as long as we’ve been coaching. A lot of people change and try this and that. We just stick with what we’ve done. Mouse (Davis) and June, we were doing this in the ‘70s. Nobody did it. They ran option and I-formation. They thought Mouse and June were crazy back then.
HPW: I still think what you guys implemented at Kalani, teaching passing-game calculus to the Falcons, confirmed even more that anything can be taught to high school student-athletes, doesn’t matter if it’s public or private school. It was fun to see the gradual development and the way Noah Brum excelled in it. (Note: Brum is now a starter at D-III Worchester State.)
Lee: He probably wouldn’t have played at Saint Louis. He came to Kalani for a few years, now he’s doing it in college. Terrific understanding of coverages. Lot of guys we had highly recruited (at UH) didn’t understand coverages. It’s nice to be a fast receiver, but it’s important to know where the open area is.
HPW: Can you see Noah becoming a coach one day? He was so low-key and cerebral, but a people person.
Lee: Noah’s a smart kid, he knows what we’re doing. He can definitely coach. Chev can throw the ball, 6-1 and growing, but he’s got some speed. The tough job for Chev is where he goes to school.
HPW: So much talent from Hawaii every year, and the past several years, seems like it’s more quarterbacks than ever.
Lee: And the kid from Pearl City (Jordan Ta‘amu) is doing well at Ole Miss.