Faatui Tuitele will be wearing a variety of jerseys in the months to come.
But before the recent Washington commit suits up in the 2019 All-American Bowl and Polynesian Bowl before heading to Seattle, one thing’s for sure.
Saturday night’s Open Division final against Mililani in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships will be his last time donning a Saint Louis uniform.
“It’s gonna be a real sad moment, not gonna lie. Being here at Saint Louis since I was in eighth grade, being able to play for the red and blue is an honor and a privilege,” the four-star defensive lineman said after practice on Wednesday evening. “To play under such great coaches and play for such a great community, and carry on the tradition of Saint Louis football, knowing that it’s going to be my last game suiting up for the red and blue, I’m definitely going to give it my all this Saturday.”
Tuitele put himself on the map as a sophomore with a game-high 11 tackles, forced fumble and sack in the 2016 state final, a 30-14 victory over Kahuku. He followed that by anchoring a fierce defense that allowed just 15.5 points per game as a junior, earning Honolulu Star-Advertiser first team All-State honors at defensive tackle.
The Crusaders (10-0), winners of 25 straight spanning back to 2016, are also one win away from becoming the first school to win three straight state championships in the top-tier division. The winning streak is tied for the fourth-longest in the state behind 55 consecutive wins from 1985 to 1990 for Saint Louis and 31 from 1995 to 1997, also from the men of Kalaepohaku.
Kahuku won 26 in a row from 2000 to ’02. The Crusaders also won 25 straight from 1991 to ’93.
Cal Lee says he’s never counted or kept track of all the wins — 283 total in 26 seasons. He just wants this year’s squad to focus on Mililani, a team the Crusaders have yet to face this season.
“I don’t keep track. I really don’t know. Everyone has mentioned this and this. I’m looking at the future — what’s ahead, not what’s behind. Behind is there,” he said. “I want these guys to play hard and enjoy playing, and if we come out victorious, then they can celebrate and do all that kind of stuff.
“But I’m just happy to be here, happy to get the opportunity for these guys to win a state championship which you can always look back and reminisce for what you did. And if you go undefeated, it’s another plus.”
Saturday’s matchup pits the all-time wins leader in Lee against Mililani quarterback Dillon Gabriel, the state’s all-time passing yardage leader. The lefty announced a scholarship offer from Georgia on Sunday, shortly after de-committing from Army.
“It’ll be a real test for us defensively, Lee said. “If we can keep him in the pocket, if we can cover him, play good coverage in the back end, that type of thing. It’s a challenge.”
The Crusaders will have to take Gabriel on without starting cornerback Brian Cox, who was ejected in the semifinals against Kahuku for fighting and is serving a one-game suspension.
“You gotta learn from it because they’re kids and they make mistakes. They’re not adults yet. They may think they’re adults, but they’re not,” Lee said. “But you hope that not only he learns, but the rest of the players understand that he’s out of the game for supposedly what he did.”
Marcus Mariota, Tua Tagovailoa and Chevan Cordeiro are the last three quarterbacks to deliver a state title for Saint Louis. All three did it as seniors, which is why Jayden de Laura faces a unique situation as a junior.
It’ll be de Laura’s first state title game after sitting out last year as a transfer from Damien. On Wednesday, he spoke openly about contributing to the school’s legacy of quarterbacks, and the pressure that comes with it.
“I’m not gonna lie. I have a lot of butterflies right now but I know I just gotta take care of the ball and I know the defense will do their job,” de Laura said. “I know I can count on the O-line blocking and the receivers doing their thing. I just gotta not throw interceptions or fumble the ball, just take care of it.”