Scrimmage, game, duel.
Whatever and however we think of Saturday’s matchup between No. 1 Mililani and No. 2 Saint Louis, it was both entertaining and revealing.
>> Milton the monster
There was a cartoon show long ago (before you kids were born) called “Milton the Monster”. An affable, dorky creature, a nerd in a beast’s strangely drawn body. It was made for the 1970s, an era when artists and writers were (possibly) feeling the aftereffects of those fluid and lucid times.
McKenzie Milton is no monster. Except on the football field, where he gets monstrous results, but operates more like a surgeon who happens to have sprinter speed. Milton is the last QB to seek praise and attention. He deflects in a sage way that actually proves that maturity can and does exist at the high school level. His numbers speak to stardom (19-for-22, 326 yards, five TDs, one INT).
He is not the offense in itself, of course. But his increasing mastery of Coach Rod York’s system is only becoming more and more foreboding for opposing defensive coordinators. The addition of transfer Ricardo Sallas III only heightens that concern.
>> Crusader turned Trojan
Did the Crusades even happen during the same era as the men of Troy? (History buffs please reply.) Sallas was a contributor to the Saint Louis attack last season, but one year later, he is a prominent part of Mililani’s offense. Milton makes it look so easy, faking the dive to a very refreshed Vavae Malepeai, then flicking the pigskin to Sallas on slant routes.
It’s the kind of play that seems simple enough to defend, right? But with Kalakaua Timoteo (two early TDs) on the outside and Sallas in the slot, most (if not all) defensive units at this level can’t quite match up speed wise with the threat of Milton-Malepeai-Timoteo-Sallas. It’s the perfect storm for York, who received one of the fastest receivers in the state — I have no idea what Sallas’ 40 time is and I don’t care because his YAC acceleration is phenomenal — and proceeded to implement that skill set directly into the offense.
You know how the NFL was slow as heck to buy into the four-wide, shotgun offense? Or the pistol? Or anything else on the offensive side of the ball that “did not fit their personnel”? York has his preference, but he also doesn’t waste time and reps on ancient history. Sallas is an instant weapon: TD catch-and-runs of 64 and 69 yards. it’ll be fascinating to see how the Trojans maximize Sallas’ versatility.
Can one man make a difference? Put Sallas in the Saint Louis offense and give Tagovailoa a seasoned pass catcher on short routes, it’s probably a different result for the unit. Instead of 21 points, maybe 28 or 35. Forty-two? Then again, it’s only a scrimmage.
Note: Sallas isn’t the only former Crusader wearing gold and brown now. Malepeai transferred from Saint Louis to Mililani after his freshman season. He never suited up for the varsity; the ILH prohibits freshmen from playing varsity football.
>> Whoopsie dropsies
I counted eight drops as I edited video yesterday. Eight drops by Saint Louis’ young fleet of receivers. Six of them came while Tua Tagovailoa (14-for-24) was on the field for his six series. The Crusaders are as patient as they are talented. Offensive coordinator Ron Lee is optimistic. I’ve heard the fury and command of the longtime guru up in the press box before, but that was during the heat of a key late-season battle.
Preseason scrimmage? He’s cool and calm. Reps will iron out those dropsies. Reps build confidence. And the patience of Tagovailoa — he would’ve been 20-for-24 had those balls not been dropped — is a major key. He coaches younger kids in Ewa Beach on Sundays in the offseason; he knows the virtue of patience quite well.
I just wonder if these younger players filling in for WR Drew Kobayashi (leg), OL Nate Herbig (foot) and S Isaiah Tufaga (leg) will battle back and keep getting better as they get these valuable snaps against high-level competition. This was a 27-21 contest in the third quarter. In other words, as well as Mililani played with a basically healthy roster, they were tested. And that’s not a common occurrence these days.
>> Humble Nate
The senior OL had a tremendous summer, drawing numerous scholarship offers before committing to Stanford. The route from Kauai to Kalaepohaku was reaping great rewards. But this injury to a ligament in his foot sounds pretty serious. He told me after the game that it could take two months to heal, but he’s praying it won’t take that long.
The one plus about the ILH schedule is that because there are so few games, even with ‘Iolani bumping up to Division I, that the regular season starts much later than the OIA. Time is on the Crusaders’ side. But as Malepeai (turf toe) already learned, sitting for four weeks or longer, barely even active — York said he hardly even rode the stationary bike — is a huge test of the psyche. Malepeai is the kind of athlete who thrives of working out morning, afternoon and night.
Herbig has the distraction, if you will, of a full school day and studying. Time will go by a little more quickly for him than it did for Malepeai. For now, he is the biggest encourager on the Saint Louis sideline, almost a de facto assistant OL coach.
>> Championship Cal
Cal Lee always looks at the big picture. He knows how close his team is to reaching an elite level. If there’s one thing about a defeat, it usually perks up the attention span of players for many practices to come. Coach Lee’s return to Saint Louis has made the kind of impact fans had hoped for. But I wonder about this: even in an optimal environment, a talented player like Sallas chose to transfer out.
In many cases, students and student-athletes in the ILH have families who ponder the costs in terms of finances, commuter time, the drain of energy from making that drive across the city or island daily. I don’t know Sallas’ situation, but it is clearly noteworthy that it still isn’t quite so simple for private schools to hold on to their pupils. It hasn’t been since the recession hit in 2009, and it’s hard to blame anyone. Circumstances are what they are.
Free education versus spending $15,000, $20,000 per year. (I’ve said this before, but I still think this is a great deal: any former private schooler who gets a 4.0 at his or her new public school deserves a reward from mom and dad. Especially for the student taking a college-prep load of classes. Negotiations should start at $2,000, just my opinion, then waver down to a clean $1K. Per quarter of straight A’s. Doesn’t and probably shouldn’t be straight cash, but the concept is absolutely, no doubt, motivational. It’s not bribery, is it? It’s a reward. An almost unattainable reward.)
Me? If my parents could afford it, no question I’d love playing for Cal Lee, learning from OC Ron Lee. That’s as close as most kids will come to walking with gridiron immortals.
A lot of action and reaction for what was technically a scrimmage. Is Hawaii a football state? Yes, my footballholics. Yes.