Star-Advertiser Preseason Top 10 Countdown
Today: No. 10 Baldwin
In his perfect universe, Pohai Lee is not quite the run-and-shoot purist that his uncle Ron Lee is.
No, Baldwin’s second-year football coach has ventured near and far in his voyage, and in his broad vision, the perfect offense would be full of unpredictability and multiple sets. That’s a rogue branch on the four-wide tree that fans statewide came to embrace in an era not so long ago.
The gurus, Lee says, are a select few.
“According to my uncle there’s only three guys: June Jones, Mouse Davis and himself,” Lee said of the R&S grand-maester tree.
Lee’s offshoot is more of a mash-up or hybrid rather than a new, evolutionary chapter of the four-wide. It would feature — hold on to your hats, purists — a tight end. A multi-skilled, tall, large, speedy and very Gronk-ish tight end. A
“Being at the college level, I’ve been exposed to different systems. Mine is pick and choose. I’ve used tight ends before, two running backs,” he said.
But even a large school like Baldwin has its personnel limitations. Though Lee had an offseason of constant work for his Bears, he will remain married to a four-wide set. Not that it’s a bad thing.
Returning quarterback and 2015 MIL offensive player of the year Chayce Akaka has seven seniors protecting him in the O-line rotation. Baldwin’s success — 14 league crowns in the last 15 seasons — seems to have peaked in the aughts, when Jordan Helle was at quarterback and the Bears came within a last-second Kahuku trick play of reaching the state tourney finals.
With a relatively young receiving corps, Akaka may lean more on All-MIL running back Kamaki Gouveia.
“We ask our backs to be able to run, block and catch the ball. He’s done all three pretty well,” Lee said, adding that the island has done more offseason pass leagues recently. “It’s just the newer receivers that Chayce has to get used to.”
There will be plenty to say about Baldwin’s formidable front seven on defense. (See Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser.) For now, though, Coach Lee — the Baldwin guru — will do whatever it takes to keep his team unpredictable and flexible. That includes an “elephant” formation borrowed from his uncle’s mostly pure playbook.
Back then, Saint Louis used Chris Fuamatu-Ma‘afala at fullback and George Ornellas at tailback in a jumbo set. Baldwin’s version may not have such legendary names, but the concept is the same behind an offensive line that averages 308 pounds per man.
“We call it ‘Grizzly’, ” Lee said.
The Bears are less than three weeks away from facing Kamehameha and new head coach Albert “Abu” Maafala.
“I knew Abu when I was at Saint Louis in the sixth grade. He was good-sized. You could tell he was going to be a big guy,” Lee recalled. “I know he coached at the college level at UH and Cal. I know they’ll have their guys ready.”
The rematch — Kamehameha won 53-0 last season as Baldwin scrambled to get ready just a few weeks after Lee was a late hire (July 2015) — will be at War Memorial Stadium.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a good game. I’m hoping our guys come out competing,” Lee said. “That’s where we’ll learn about their character.”
After officially becoming head coach in July of 2015, Lee and his staff have relished the ample time this offseason to work with players. The 32 returnees have at least one observer calling the Bears “untouchable” in the MIL.
“Untouchable, that’s a really strong word,” Lee said. “But we like where we’re going now.”
One aspect that hasn’t changed since the start of Baldwin’s rule in the MIL: terminology. The language from JV to varsity has remained constant since the years of Chad Kauhaahaa (now with Oregon State) at the helm, followed by Jimmy Morimoto (UNLV, Fresno State).