Q&A: Cal Lee on Saint Louis-Punahou title tilt

Saint Louis coach Cal Lee has the Crusaders on a 26-game winning streak. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

Perhaps Cal Lee, Kalani graduate, Linfield linebacker, Kalani/Saint Louis/Hawaii/Hawaiian Islanders/Kalani/Saint Louis football teacher, former athletic director and winningest head coach in island prep football history, has plenty of distractions.

It’s unlikely. He may not eat and drink football, but he certainly puts a large percentage of brain usage toward his Saint Louis Crusaders. As they head into a winner-take-all battle with Punahou on Saturday, Lee is in his comfort zone. Saturday’s game at Aloha Stadium between unbeaten, No. 1 Saint Louis (8-0, 7-0 ILH Open) and No. 2 Punahou (7-2, 5-2) is for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship. It is for the only Open Division state-tourney berth allotted to the ILH.

Lee chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday morning.

HPW: Good morning, Coach Cal. What did you have for breakfast?

Lee: I had a bacon smokehouse hamburger.

HPW: That sounds good. Where’s that from?

Lee: McDonald’s.

HPW: I don’t think I ever looked at that side of the menu before. What time did you get up?

Lee: I got up about 7:30 a.m.

HPW: When you went to bed last night, were you thinking about football?

Lee: Yeah.

HPW: How about when you woke up?

Lee: Oh yeah. I go to sleep thinking about football and get up thinking about football. It’s on your mind. You just can’t shut it off.

HPW: Especially getting closer to game day.

Lee: Your concentration, you can’t help but think about it. Things we can do to try to get better. You get ideas. You just toss it around and see if it would work. It’s constantly going.

HPW: Would you say it’s an obsession?

Lee: It’s kind of an obsession, yeah. Can’t help it, you know. It’s a lot at stake, not just the game, you just want to do well for the boys. You know, that’s all part of it.

HPW: Now your team plays Punahou, which was the closest game of the year so far before Saint Louis won 35-28.

Lee: You really work on the things you need to get better. The first time it was a tough battle and we made mistakes. It’s not only that game, but the whole season, you make mistakes and correct them, don’t make the same mistakes again. Practice catching, blocking, tackling, the whole gamut of the game.

HPW: I did some checking. I know you don’t dwell on the past, but Saint Louis is 8-0 this season. Last year, 10-0, state title. In 2016, Saint Louis won its last five games, including the state final. That’s a win streak of 23 games.

Lee: Ah, I don’t pay attention to those things. Doesn’t matter. I don’t keep track. What do you keep track of that for? What’s important?

HPW: It’s proof that the everyday work has led to success. Especially back when you and Coach Ron (Lee) returned five years ago. Have the staff and players talked about Saturday’s game being an elimination game, or is it unnecessary to talk about that?

Lee: It’s all in house. You remind the kids of what you’e got to do to win the game. Mistakes can hurt you. All the things you can do to help the team.

HPW: What do you see in Punahou that’s different from Sept. 15, when you last played them?

Lee: Punahou is doing a good job protecting the quarterback. (Hugh) Brady is good. He’s got a quick release. I’m impressed with him. You’ve gotta credit their O-line. They’re doing a good job. Anybody can look good with protection. Defensively, they make it tough to throw the ball, even with a three-man, four-man rush. They’re pretty active defensively. Some quick guys that make plays. We’re excited, it’s a big game. I just hope the kids play well and hope for the best.

HPW: That first matchup with Punahou, your young quarterback (Jayden de Laura) looked young for the first time. It was a key to his learning curve. He’s been unstoppable since then.

Lee: For Jayden, that’s part of it. You go though the season, you get your ups and downs. You always learn and become a better football player. The coaches do a good job reinforcing what he needs to do.

HPW: Do you wish you had a one-game rental for a huge running back like Prince Brown?

Lee: You need that guy back there to block too. You’d like to have a guy like that.

HPW: You’ve seen a lot over the decades. What’s your perspective on St. Francis, which had to end its season due to an eligibility issue?

Lee: Well, I feel sorry for the team. That’s definite. Did he repeat ninth grade? The clock starts then. You would know, somebody that’s new coming in. As a coach and administrator, I think that’s pretty obvious, but I’ve been here a long time.

HPW: Is there a uniform, on-paper protocol that leagues should send out to each athletic program? Or is it better done in house?

Lee: Back then, in the day, you had to sign in when you started seventh grade. Nobody’s over 19 and all the kind of stuff. You check for age, when they started school, seventh grade, so you know where he is. As a coach, you should know, you were a ninth grader, and you transferred and you’re playing again as a ninth grader? You can do that, but your clock started. You lose your senior year.


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