Here today, gone tomorrow.
Just like that, the Saint Louis’ losses are the OIA’s gains. Freshman quarterback phenom Jaron Keawe Sagapolutele is transferring from Saint Louis to Campbell. One of his big-play targets, sophomore wide receiver Kache Kaio, is en route to Kahuku.
Another stellar contributor, 6-foot-2, 358-pound offensive lineman Iapani “Poncho” Laloulu, has left Saint Louis and is returning to Farrington for his upcoming senior year. Laloulu cracked the rotation last year despite the presence and talent of 12 seniors. He was just beginning to draw attention from college recruiters when he left Farrington after sophomore year to attend Saint Louis in 2021. He currently has nine offers: Arizona, Cal, Florida, Hawaii, Miami, Oregon, Syracuse, Tennessee and Virginia.
Based on the 2021 Star-Advertiser All-State voting, Laloulu is the highest-ranked offensive lineman returning this fall. Kahuku’s Brayden Mailo is second.
With college recruiters scouring Oahu for prime talent, a number of young Saint Louis up-and-coming prospects have received scholarship offers recently. Saint Louis’ last day of spring football was on Thursday, leaving longtime coach Ron Lee stoked and optimistic. However, the loss of three promising players certainly stings.
“Poncho wants to play with his (younger) brother and play with his friends from KPT. He grew up playing with them,” Lee said. “It happens. That’s a huge loss for us.”
Lee, the longtime offensive coordinator, took over as head coach when brother Cal Lee stepped down two years ago to focus solely on defensive coordinator duties. Ron Lee said he isn’t very familiar with Kaio, who played on Saint Louis’ JV/Division II squad last fall while Sagapolutele aired out bombs and missiles. Still, Lee had high hopes for Sagapolutele.
“Well, I think it’s a mistake, but that’s me. He went to one (spring) practice and the dad calls. He says, ‘That’s his last practice. I’m pulling him,’ ” Lee said. “He got equal reps. They all had 3s and we rotate.”
Campbell coach Darren Johnson is looking forward to seeing the quarterback competition between returning starter Chayne Kuboyama-Hayashi and Sagapolutele.
“In any program, competition always lifts the level in wins and losses, grades. You have to be a good student, be a good role model, just be right by the program and the school.”
Sagapolutele, who grew up in Ewa Beach, was arguably the most productive freshman quarterback in the state last season.
“He’s finishing up (spring semester) at Saint Louis. Ewa Beach is home. If we could keep more players home it would create more competition,” Johnson said of the Open Division. “The Ewa Beach kids love this town. If you want to come back home, this is where you belong.”
Johnson said he had a discussion with Sagapolutele’s parents.
“What I know now is he’s coming. If anybody else comes back, right now. We love our Ewa Beach kids,” he said.
It was mere months ago when Kache Kaio and Sagapolutele were connecting consistently and torching defenses. Along with a talented offensive unit, including wide receiver Onosai Salanoa, the D-II Crusaders scored often as Kaio provided immense ball skills, route running and flat-out physical mismatches with his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame.
Sagapolutele, at 6-2 and 205 pounds, found Kaio for three touchdowns in their season debut, a 34-14 win over Damien. He finished with 336 passing yards and zero interceptions. The freshman finished the season with 1,730 passing yards and 21 TDs as the D-II Crusaders went 4-1.
At Saint Louis, the return of quarterback Kekahi Graham — who left to play in Utah as a junior — and the presence of Kauna‘oa Kamakawiwo‘ole would have been a three-man QB room. Competition for playing time at Campbell isn’t as extreme as it would have been at Kalaepohaku for Sagapolutele. Graham will be a senior this fall. Kamakawiwo‘ole will be a junior.
“You look at (Marcus) Mariota, he had to wait until his senior year, but look at him now, in the NFL, doing well, played at Oregon,” Lee said.
Therein lies the rub, perhaps. Not every quarterback wants to wait one or two years to start.
Kuboyama-Hayashi (1,555 yards, 15 TDs) started last season as a sophomore for the Sabers (5-4 overall). If Sagapolutele wins the starting job, it could be his for the next three seasons.
In an Open Division gauntlet, the Sabers relied more on the running game in 2021 to protect its relative youth on the offensive unit. They spread the ball around; six Sabers had at least 14 receptions and 200-plus yards. Dominick Espinda led the team in receiving yardage and was tied with four TD catches, but he graduates this spring.
The remainder of Campbell’s top pass catching group returns: Jourdain Berinobis-Pyne (21, 254, four), Dallas John Fonseca-Juan (16, 236), Kamaehu Kopa-Kaawaiauole (14, 230, three) and the ultimate Swiss Army knife, WR/RB/QB Jonah Tofagau-Tavui (600 yards and six TDs from scrimmage).
Meanwhile, Kaio’s departure is not much of a surprise. He grew up in Laie and spent much of the offseason last year, and this year, training with the Rebel Squad program that has won two Pylon national titles. While the quarterback room at Saint Louis will miss Nevada-bound AJ Bianco, the deep group of receivers is doesn’t have many bigger pass catchers like Kaio (33 receptions, 527 yards, nine TDs).
Five of Saint Louis’ top six producers in the receiving corps are returning, but Mason Muaau (6-5, 200) is the only one at least 6 feet tall. At Kahuku, Kaio’s older brother, Daniel, caught 37 passes for 505 yards and 10 TDs as a senior last season.
The returning group of receivers includes Star-Advertiser All-State offensive player of the year Kainoa Carvalho, who will be a senior, and a pack of young pass catchers. Kahuku’s third-most productive receiver during last season’s Open Division state-title run was linebacker Liona Lefau (13 receptions, 225 yards, six TDs). The opportunity to contribute immediately and prolifically is there for Kache Kaio.
After Rebel Squad, comprised largely of athletes from Kahuku, returned from another successful trip, coach Sola Soliai was fully positive about Kaio’s potential.
“He was tearing it up both days of the (Mecca II) tournament. He’s starting to run better routes and understand his relationship with To‘a (Kahuku junior quarterback Waika Crawford). When to look back for the ball, how to run his route against man and zone,” Soliai said. “I grew up with his dad, Kealoha, We always ask for the kids in Laie to be on this team. I ran into Kealoha and we started talking.”