He’s not the only first-year, senior starter to rise in prominence.
Punahou’s Stephen Barber is merely the latest. When the Buffanblu (4-0, 1-0 ILH) meet Saint Louis (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday night (6 p.m.) at Aloha Stadium, it has the makings of an ultimate battle in the decades-old lore of this rivalry.
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he is the prototype of what the position requires in the modern game. Trained to release the ball quickly, yet be durable and strong enough to withstand a first or even second pass rusher, extending plays and, sometimes stubbornly, refusing to go down. That persistence works against him at times — six interceptions thrown — but it also wears a defense down.
His completion rate, now nearly 61 percent, has improved. His passing yardage per attempt is 8.9, a preposterously great number considering how young and inexperience Punahou’s receiving corps is. His rushing average, 7.7 per attempt, is almost abnormal, but not surprising given the experience of the offensive line.
Kale Ane has led Punahou to a win over Saint Louis in each of the last three seasons. Only one other coach has matched that: Kanani Souza of Kamehameha, who did it from ’96-98. Ane also has four career wins over Lee, a number surpassed only by Don Botelho of Pac-Five, who overcame Saint Louis five times.
“We want to take advantage of Stephen’s athletic ability, being a breakaway threat,” Ane said of the southpaw, who has offers from Air Force, Hawaii and Navy. “We have to be patient and take what they give us. We’re really high on our offensive line.”
The front five is among the best in the islands: left tackle Duke Clemens (6-4, 265), left guard Paulo Soa (6-1, 330), center Blake Feigenspan (6-3, 265), right guard Ahofitu Maka (6-3, 336) and right guard Alama Uluave (6-4, 290). Uluave, younger brother of former standout Semisi Uluave, has 10 scholarship offers. Clemens, a junior, has offers from Hawaii and Utah.
The Crusaders were idle last week, grinding away under Lee’s watchful eyes. He was far from satisfied after a 44-0 win over Kamehameha on Sept. 1. The unit is loaded with college prospects: DB Isaiah Tufaga (seven scholarship offers), DB Isaiah Feary (Hawaii), DB Kai Kaneshiro (Hawaii), LB Noa Purcell (Fresno State), LB Isaiah Taliulu (Air Force) and the junior in the trenches, Tuitele (18 offers). As far as they’re concerned, this may as well be a mission to protect Kalaepohaku’s reign.
As defenses test out methods to contain Barber, his young pass catchers figure to find open gaps more often. The new-look group running routes has a smidge of previous varsity experience. Tamatoa Falatea (6-1, 185) and Andrei Iosivas (6-3, 185) had limited snaps in 2016 behind an all-senior group. They’re beginning to thrive in ’17.
“We have some outstanding receivers,” Ane said.