Everything is up front for the Saint Louis Crusaders.
Or, it begins there. When Cal Lee returned to the campus four years ago, the program had talent across the board. The one area lacking depth was defensive line. The Crusaders reached the state final that season, losing to Kahuku.
In 2017, they stocked up at D-line with a horde of talent led by eventual All-State defensive player of the year Faatui Tuitele and All-State performer Gino Quinones. That’s when a string of three straight state championships began, by no coincidence.
The defense permitted just 157 points as the Crusaders went 11-0. Since ’17, they are 31-1 overall.
Tuitele is now at Washington. Quinones is at USC. The good times aren’t coming to an end, though. The Crusaders are still deep in the trenches. Stanley Mckenzie, the lone returning starter at D-line, led a tenacious pass rush in scrimmages against Kaimuki and Kailua over the weekend and is one of many reasons the Crusaders are No. 1 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Preseason Top 10. They were featured in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which you can read by clicking here.
Mckenzie, a football and baseball standout, hopes to play both sports when he arrives in Berkeley next summer to play for the Cal Bears. For now, he is stoked, but not surprised, about the progress of his fellow D-linemen.
“Darrell Masaniai is on my left and Anthony Sagapolutele is on my right. They’re returnees, and it was a tight group last year. They understand their jobs. If everyone does their assignments, the offense won’t move the ball,” Mckenzie said. “We’ll miss Tui and Gino, but we’re picking up where they left off.”
Sagapolutele has impressed Lee.
“Anthony has shown that he’s ready to go. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s got that quickness and he’s smart,” Lee said. “He’s not the size of Tui, but he’s got more quickness. I like his attitude. The players like him because he’s one of the vocal ones. Talks a lot, runs a lot, does everything full speed. I’m excited for him playing.”
The defensive unit was the constant in 2018. Even with the slightest drop-off, it would still be among the top units in the state. Their play gives the linebackers and secondary all kinds of takeaway possibilities.
“I’d grade them an A plus,” senior linebacker Jordan Botelho said. “The D-line is something we’re definitely looking forward to. They’re stepping up.”
Kamo‘i Latu’s range and playmaking ability are off the charts, but his decisions will have plenty to do with the effectiveness of his teammates at the point of contact.
“It all starts up front with our D-line. As a DB, I’ve got to thank the D-line getting in there,” the senior safety said. “They get an A plus, plus extra credit.”
That’s not to say there is any sense of complacency.
“We’re not all there yet, but we have great team effort,” Latu added. “The whole defense ran to the ball (against Kaimuki). After watching film, we corrected some things. Tackling, running to the ball.”