Q & A: Saint Louis football coach Cal Lee

Saint Louis coach Cal Lee is the state's all-time winningest high school football coach. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser
Saint Louis coach Cal Lee is the state’s all-time winningest high school football coach. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser

It’s nearly mid-March, which means spring football is still some time away.

The preseason, regular season, all light years away. But with so much attention on local prospects, especially Saint Louis juniors Tua Tagovailoa and Isaac Slade-Matautia, Hawaii Prep World caught up with Crusaders head football coach Cal Lee for a chat on Friday afternoon.

Between the Prep Bowl/state-championship dynasty he built at Kalaepohaku and his later years as an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii, Lee’s perspective is unique, to say the least.

HPW: Thank you for your time, Coach Cal.

Lee: No problem, Paul.

HPW: The offers keep coming for guys like Tua and Isaac. There was a time going back to maybe the 1980s when schools like Alabama weren’t exactly knocking on doors in Hawaii.

Lee: Well, Alabama, no, but Nebraska was the school back then with Tom Osborne. When somebody offers, the conference jumps in. You get one, two, three schools.

HPW: At this point, with the Alabama offer, Tua has 17 offers. Isaac just got offered by Colorado, UCF and Hawaii in one day. Now he has eight offers.

Lee: Yeah, but you can’t go to 17 schools or eight schools. It’s important that the kid breaks it down to the top five. It can’t be 17, no way. You’ve got to be up front with the schools. You focus on those three or four or five. You’ve got to be honest with the schools if you’re not interested. You’ve got to let them know.

HPW: Isaac is very interesting in his skill set and physical ability. Where do you see him at the next level: linebacker, rover maybe?

Lee: I think he can be an outside linebacker. He can run well, he’s athletic and he can play in space. Those are the things you look for: good hips, can they move, can they back peddle? He’s destined to be an outside linebacker.

HPW: He started last football season near 230 and was below 200 by the end of basketball season. Then he got back up to 205 for the Nike Opening two weeks ago. His mom (Julia Pulu) says he’ll focus on football from this point.

Lee: You want him to be 230 and he’s active. He looks a little skinny, but he can fill up. He can pick up the weight. Even during football season, he wasn’t 230, but senior year, he might be. And he’s still growing. He’s 6-foot-1 now.

HPW: Losing some key offensive and defensive linemen is a concern for every program. You guys lose Nate Herbig to graduation. How does next season’s line look on both sides?

Lee: The big thing about next year is our guys have got to work hard, hitting the weight room and concentrating on getting better. Getting bigger, faster and stronger. That’s what you do in the offseason. You can’t just show up at the end of summer and get ready for football. Football is such a physical game, so you have to prepare. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.

Our defensive line has some returnees, some underclassmen stepping up, some of the JV players stepping up. But when it’s all said and done, it comes down to what they do between now and when they put on the pads.

HPW: What do you hope to get out of spring football coming up soon?

Lee: I understand the ILH’s rule about no contact in spring football. It’s been around since the beginning of time. The OIA allows contact during the spring. I sure would love to see some discussion about adding more practice time in helmets and pads in the spring and preseason.

HPW: Thank you for your time, Coach Cal.

Lee: You’re welcome.


  1. Action Jackson March 11, 2016 9:46 pm

    Coach Lee is just an absolute cool cat. He’s 70 yrs old! Thank goodness for true Kamaainas like him.

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