All-Blacks Crusaders dominate Pylon ‘Mecca” 14U national tourney
The pain of February fueled the joy of April.
The All-Blacks Crusaders lost to Winner Circle Athletics in the final of a Pylon national tournament in February. That cold Arizona weekend set the tone for the next two months.
ABC returned to the mainland and dominated in eight games at the Pylon Mecca 14-under tournament in Mesquite, Nev., to finish 8-0 last weekend.
“We wanted to get our redemption. When we found out we were going in April to Las Vegas, we always had that statement: unfinished business,” wide receiver Titan Lacaden said. “We had to go up there and win.”
All-Blacks Crusaders defeated ETA Chrome (60-0), Utah Prospects Green (46-7) and TGS (38-0) on Saturday. On Sunday, ABC defeated KT Pups, Ford Sports Performance (28-16) and DAB (36-0). They defeated another Hawaii team, LoPro, 30-20, in the final.
Quarterback Jaron Sagapolutele, and wide receivers Onosa‘i Salanoa and Lacaden played at an elite level, coach Frank Lacaden said, leaving tournament officials baffled about choosing a single MVP.
“I think Pylon had a hard time picking an MVP because everybody shined. The ball was distributed to everyone the way the run-and-shoot is supposed to,” coach Lacaden said.
Sagapolutele, an eighth grader at Saint Louis, drew raves.
“He’s John (Sagapolutele’s) brother,” Lacaden said, referring to Punahou’s starting sophomore quarterback. “He grew up in a few months, great leadership. He made sure to take that extra second to secure the ball, then let his athleticism show.”
Lacaden also praised his linebackers: Elijah Nua, Tahlen Kekawa, Dallas Pelen and Sylas Alaimalo. Nua, Kekawa and Pelen attend Saint Louis. Alaimalo is a Damien Monarch.
“This linebacker corps will be one of the best to come out. These are true linebackers, not DBs. They also play tackle for us and they’re (covering) slots, playing man and understanding the packages,” Lacaden said. “It’s amazing to see a group of seventh and eighth graders do their thing. They were unbelievable.”
Sagapolutele, Titan Lacaden and Salanoa have all repeated a grade. The results show in the classroom and as they have grown physically. Sagapolutele is 6 feet, 2 inches and 198 pounds with a 3.8 grade-point average. He plans on taking honors math classes in the fall.
Lacaden was 11 when he received a scholarship offer from Hawaii during the Nick Rolovich era. He also has a 3.8 GPA. Salanoa carries a 3.93 GPA.
The All-Black Crusaders have a mix of players from Kapolei, Damien, Saint Louis and more schools. Training for Pylon began last October. Through two mainland trips, they’ve had big fun despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My best memory of the trip off the field is after we won the championship. We went back to the hotel and we got together and went bowling,” Titan Lacaden said. “We were at The Orleans (hotel).”
Salanoa and Sagapolutele have fairly expensive taste.
“I liked the crab legs at the buffet,” Salanoa said.
“That’s my favorite memory,” Sagapolutele said. “Eating at the buffet with all the boys. We ate crab legs.”
All three offensive playmakers have the same favorite highlight play of the tournament.
“Mine is when Jaron threw the ball to Sa‘i and everyone went crazy. I could see the excitement on everyone’s faces in that moment. That was in the championship game,” Titan Lacaden said.
“It was the go route to Sa‘i. It was deep coverage, 10, 15 yards back. Safety help over and Sa‘i ran a comeback go route. He beat the corner and I just bombed it deep,” said Sagapolutele, who has tested at 55 yards maximum. “He ran past the safety, caught it one handed and scored.”
Titan Lacaden and Salanoa believe their quarterback is actually ahead of schedule.
“I definitely think he’s the best quarterback in the country. He has the arm strength, the IQ, the height, the build,” Lacaden said. “I definitely think Jaron’s better at this age. I’ve seen John play a lot. John is real good.”
“I think he’s going to be better than his brother, to be honest. At this age, he can throw the ball farther and he’s more accurate as a young player,” Salanoa said.
Jaron Sagapolutele doesn’t think about comparisons.
“I don’t really feel it that much. I just take it and push myself to be better because at the end of the day, I learn from my brother, so I always use it to get better at my craft and everything I do,” he said.
Salanoa has heard historical references about his name.
“Oh yeah, a lot. It’s usually my uncle Thor or my uncle Fred,” he said of the former standout players, now longtime coaches at the high school level.
He never wanted a first name from Norse or Greek mythology, but if he had to choose, there’s one name he has in mind. It is not Hercules or Zeus.
“I actually would rather have Odin. I Just watched movies like ‘Percy Jackson’,” Salanoa said.
The trip also included the usual travel must-have for football players: an Xbox and lots of Madden.
“Kingston Siliado is the best at Madden,” Titan Lacaden said. “He’s our starting running back.”
The actual games on the gridiron weren’t quite as close. The team was at full throttle for two months preparing for Pylon Mecca.
“To be honest, there were no really tough games,” Titan Lacaden said. “The only times the games were tough were when we made it tough. We were so good that the only team that could stop us was us.”
Next on the menu: JPS Oahu League. Like the school leagues, the schedule is roughly half what it normally would be.
“Hopefully, it’s at Aloha Stadium,” Titan Lacaden said. “Playing there, you have a feeling when you walk in, especially for me since my dad and older brothers and family played there. I watched countless number of games there. The stadium gives me that chicken-skin feeling that’s unexplainable.”
It has already been a bountiful 2021. In addition to the 8th/7th grade (14U), ABC’s 9th grade and 6th/5th grade teams also competed at the tournament.
“Our team moms are really great. I’m super thankful for them,” Sagapolutele said. “They organized our first trip and organized us to go again. We had a lot of meetings and our coaches were always preparing us every day. I’m super thankful for all of them.”
The All-Blacks Crusaders are scheduled to play their first JPS league game on May 8. The logistics of preparing for Pylon and JPS were not simple.
“We get our big boys in. It was hard to figure out how we’re doing things, abiding by the COVID rules. Going one hour a day, that kind of made things hard,” coach Lacaden said. “No time to talk story, just write out our practice script.”
Game time was the reward.
“I love game planning,” he said. “It was fun to sit back, call plays and let these athletes play.”
Kaiola Ahsing, DB
Sylas Alaimalo, LB/REC
Tama Amisone, DB
Tahlen Kekawa, LB
TItan Lacaden, REC
Kaeo Nozawa, DB
Elijah Nua, LB
Jordan Nunuha, REC
Magnus Ochoco, DB
Dallas Pelen, LB
Jaron Sagapolutele, QB
Onosa‘i Salanoa, REC
Hashley-King Siliado, REC
James Steffany-Fiame, REC
Derek Tsuchiyama, REC
Kaina Watson, REC
Zanden Willis, DB
Head coach: Frank Lacaden
Defensive coordinator: Keao Monteilh
DB coach: Oscar Willis
LB coaches: Jake Lacaden, Jerome Nozawa, Bucky Rodrigues
Offensive coordinator: Kalae Borges
QB coach: Mike Nua
REC coach: Anson Ahsing