Hoover Dam. UNLV campus.
Most of all, buffets and practice.
The Saint Louis Crusaders are in business mode in Nevada this week. They just won’t have one of the nation’s top linebackers in uniform when they face St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) tonight in the GEICO State Champion Bowl Series in Las Vegas.
With Jordan Botelho back home in Honolulu, Coach Cal Lee and the Crusaders are counting on the next man up, the aptly named Laakea Louis, a sophomore linebacker.
There’s plenty of depth and talent on the defensive side of the ball for Saint Louis, but this will be the first time during this 38-game win streak that Botelho won’t be on the field.
Lee noted earlier in the week that they could make a multitude of adjustments, including the use of defensive linemen like Darrell Masaniai at outside ‘backer. Whatever the tweaks, Saint Louis won’t be in usual mode on defense, the cornerstone of its 12-0 mark, ILH and Open Division state titles. And a No. 7 national ranking.
There’s plenty of prep time, though. While No. 5 St. Thomas Aquinas (14-0) rallied to edge Orlando Edgewater 28-23 for the Florida state 7A championship last week, Saint Louis was studying from afar. The Crusaders watched the game on TV. Took notes. The film room next to the practice field at Kalaepohaku has been well used in the past three weeks since Saint Louis topped Kahuku 45-6 in the state final.
St. Thomas Aquinas senior quarterback Zion Turner has been especially efficient. Turner has passed for 1,641 yards with 23 TDs and just seven picks in 234 pass attempts. He was named the MaxPreps player of the game against Orlando Edgewater with 13-for-20 passing, 112 yards and TD. He also rushed for 72 yards and two TDs on 11 carries.
Saint Louis’ offense will be tested by a St. Thomas Aquinas defense that made a big stand in the final drive by Orlando Edgewater. Georgia signee Marcus Rosemy, their standout wide receiver, entered as a defender and came up with the interception on the game’s final play.
Another WR, Christian Leary, had a huge impact in the RPO game, rushing for 141 yards and two TDs on just six carries. Running back Isaiah Connelly rushed 28 times for 132 yards.
After finishing finals, flying to Las Vegas on Wednesday, and studying St. Thomas Aquinas, the game will be another final exam unto itself for the Crusaders.
They spent part of Thursday touring the UNLV campus. Then more film study. Practice. Then they made a trek to Hoover Dam on Friday. Then it was “Star Wars” at the theater.
“We toured the academic facilities, which was good,” said safety Kamo‘i Latu, who signed with Utah on Wednesday.
“The part I liked the most is the (breakfast) buffet,” defensive tackle and Cal signee Stanley McKenzie said. “We had a great practice. My favorite thing about this trip is spending time with my brothers, making memories and just being able to play one last game with all my brothers, especially my fellow 2020 brothers. We’re going to play our last game in a Saint Louis jersey and we are going to go out wit ha bang!”
The last time some of Saint Louis’ offensive standouts were on the mainland, they played for a 7v7 team that finished third out of 32 teams in Florida last summer. QB Jayden de Laura and receivers Roman Wilson, Matt Sykes, Koali Nishigaya and SB Isaac Silva generated a monster season through the air. Nishigaya provided huge contributions in many of Saint Louis’ biggest games.
“We’re just bonding as a team, cherishing our time together,” the senior said. “Film, film, film. We’re just here to handle business.”