Two scrimmages into preseason, the Saint Louis Crusaders got some confirmation about their core players.
They also have a big question mark at a key position. Coach Ron Lee’s squad went 80 plays deep on Friday in a scrimmage with OIA powerhouse Mililani. Saturday’s matchup with Kailua was shorter, but also valuable.
“We ran about 80 plays (against Mililani). Good work. Mililani is really good. They’re in midseason form. They’re very impressive. We just got through with Kailua. We didn’t go very long, but it was good for us. We let a lot of guys get reps.”
Sizing up their depth chart is a major priority now. There are more than 100 players on the current varsity roster.
“Now it’s time to play. We’ve let, on the varsity, everyone get reps. But (later), not everybody’s going to get reps, so we might send them down to the JV. We have to discuss that (Sunday),” Lee said.
Lee and staff spent Sunday afternoon studying film of the two scrimmages, evaluating every play.
The four-time Open Division defending champions, he added, are not quite the dominant unit that rose to a national ranking in 2019. With a talented offensive line and a team that is relatively young, the blueprint may call for a balanced offensive scheme. It was only a few years back when Saint Louis ran the ball on 53 percent of its plays, partly due to a highly effective scrambler in Jayden de Laura.
“I think during that time, Chev (Cordeiro) was our runner but we didn’t throw the ball much. It was de Laura’s junior year that we ran the ball more, including the quarterbacks running. Chev’s year, man, we threw more and Chev scrambled a lot,” Lee said. “I think this year, we can do both. We’ve got to see what the defense gives us. We’re young at the RB spot, so it’s not automatic that we’ll be running. We’ll try to be 50-50. We lost all our receivers in 2019 and 2020, and we’ve got very young receivers. Outside of our O-line, we’re really young. This is a rebuilding year. Out of 18 receivers or so, we have three seniors. One (senior) running back, one (senior) quarterback.”
Even the vaunted O-line, with four Division college commits, has a learning curve ahead.
“They did OK. We got hurt a little bit, got qutquicked going against different teams. Mililani was very quick on the outside. A lot of penetration by Mililani. it’s good that we’ve got to move. Because of our size, we haven’t moved. Our protection scheme, if you’re uncovered, you have to ‘pop.’ A little slow popping on the back side,” Lee noted.
The O-line includes Gannon Lauer, a senior transfer from Kauai, and junior Iapani “Poncho” Laloulu. The latter was at St. Francis a few years ago, then played at Farrington the past two seasons.
“He’s very competitive and he’s very athletic,” Lee said of Laloulu. “He’s kind of learning the blocking schemes, but he moves well for his size. He can be off-balance and setting the wrong way, but he can recover. He’s come a long way from the start (of preseason practice) on the 19th, and he’s very physical.”
Lee said the starting job at quarterback is not a given. Senior AJ Bianco, junior Kekahi Graham and sophomore Oa Kamakawiwo‘ole are competing for the job.
“We need to be more consistent with our reads and progressions, and that takes time,” Lee said.
The running back position is not set either.
“Nothing spectacular, but I think they all working and getting better. Running better after the catch. Again, it comes down to a lot are getting reps. It’s hard to get three deep equal reps,” he said.
The defensive line is improving, Lee added. Sophomore Julian Savaiinaea, younger brother of offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea, is one of the core stoppers.
“They are really young, too. We got freshmen and sophomores playing. We took a big hit 2019, and last year with no football we lost another bunch. They’re working hard, getting better, but they’re very green. That’s kind of how it is for everybody. All the schools are in the same boat. Going against our O-line makes us better,” Lee said. “Jonah’s brother is coming along, and a couple of other guys up front.”
The linebacking corp is led by Tasi Tadio, Iona Purcell and Matt Malepeai.
“Tasi is showing leadership and he’s the physical presence we need along with Purcell and Matty. The rest are all young,” Lee said.
Kona Moore is among the veteran leaders in the secondary.
“Our back seven are very capable,” Lee said. “These guys have some big shoes to fill, but they’re coming along, learning coach’s package.”
That is coach as in Cal Lee, who stepped down as head coach last year and remains the defensive coordinator. As head coach and offensive coordinator, Ron Lee has overseen the state’s premier football program through a once-in-a-century pandemic.
“We’re always concerned. We want to do our part,” said Lee, who got vaccinated in January. “Sometimes, we forget because we’ve been going since spring, 45, 50 practices and we’ve been lucky with our tests for the (spring) scrimmages. Thank the good Lord, we haven’t had any cases. Now we’ve got a lot of kids vaccinated. We keep our protocols at the school.”