Q&A: Saint Louis coach Cal Lee loves a challenge

Cal Lee kept a watchful eye on his Saint Louis Crusaders during a scrimmage against Kaimuki. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

In the thick heat and humidity of late July, Cal Lee was once again in his element.

The process. The teaching. The one on one. After 14 Prep Bowl and four state championship crowns, including the last three in a row, the celebration is long over. Lee has an eternal thirst that might seem unquenchable. The Crusaders have won 26 games in a row, 31 of their last 32 since Lee and staff returned to the campus at Kalaepohaku. The 11-0 season in 2018 is part of a current 26-game win streak.

Such success doesn’t guarantee a smooth path, however. A few starters transferred out after last season, including highly-rated Wynden Ho‘ohuli, now at Mililani. Another former Crusader starter, Malosi Sam, was a major factor in Mililani’s close win over Campbell last weekend.

Lee chatted with Hawaii Prep World during preseason, shortly after Saint Louis’ three scrimmages. Through the twists and turns, including the magnanimous first run at Saint Louis, as an assistant coach at Hawaii, then head coach of the AFL2 Hawaiian Islanders, and the three years as an assistant at alma mater Kalani — with brother Ron at his side — he has stayed true to his heart.

HPW: A lot of amazing talent graduated, some transferred out, but everything was humming once the team is on the field. Your team was dominant in these scrimmages. There doesn’t appear to be any dropoff from last season.

Cal Lee: I don’t think about what happened last year. It was great and everything, but we’re trying to rebuild. That’s how I look at it. Last year was great memories, but you can’t live thinking about last year. You’ve got to think about this year. Every team has players, starters, but we don’t have 22 players coming back from last year. We have to rebuild our offense, rebuild our defense, make sure our guys are ready in their area, at their position, able to compete and not just showing up for the game. Everybody has a few starters back, but they don’t have 11 on offense and 11 on defense. If they do, they’re ready to go.

HPW: One of your key returnees on offense, Jayden de Laura, is in line for a huge season.

Cal Lee: Jayden has that experience from last year, and that’s a plus. When he came back, he’s got that attitude, that you’re going to produce. I like the idea that if you don’t compete, you may be out of a job. I like Connor (Apo) and our sophomore, AJ (Bianco), and those guys are pushing. I think Jayden understands he’s got to be on target and be smart, do what he has to do to be successful.

HPW: It sounds like there’s no automatic status as a starter this early in preseason.

Cal Lee: Our underclassmen are competing. They think they should play, and I don’t care if they’re sophomores or freshmen, if they deserve it, they should play. Someone might get hurt or sick you’ve got toe ready you never know when you’ll get the call.

HPW: The big challenge might be at defensive line. One lineman is now at Washington. One is at USC.

Cal Lee: Those were two big shoes you’re talking about, Tui (Tuitele) and Gino (Quinones). And (Tim) Timoteo, (Liloa) Kapiko (SDSU). Those guys were energetic, they come to practice ready to go and compete because there’s a lot of kids who want to fill those shoes. They’re willing to work hard to get there.

HPW: It’s not an empty cupboard. You’ve got (Cal commit) Stanley McKenzie back.

Cal Lee: Stanley is our nose tackle. We have guys who can play the outside more than the middle. Stanley is a big load in the middle. They need a couple of people to block him. We have Anthony Sagapolutele at defensive tackle. He has shown that he’s ready to go, he’s got a lot of energy. The other side is still up for grabs. It’s not a matter of who’s going to start. We don’t play until Aug. 15, so I like these guys and I want them to keep competing.

HPW: What do you like best about Anthony?

Cal Lee: He’s got that quickness and he’s smart. He’s not the size of Tui but he’s got more quickness. I like his attitude. The players like him because he’s one of the vocal ones, talks a lot, runs a lot, does everything full speed. I’m excited for him playing.

HPW: The scrimmage your team had with Kailua, the Surfriders had a strong, mobile quarterback in Cameron Friel, who was at Saint Louis last season (on JV). Elusive, but your front seven had him corralled.

Cal Lee: The front people did a great job. When you put pressure, the DBs are in great shape. Can’t throw. This isn’t pass league. We’ve got to keep working. I hate to think that we’re right there. When we play our first game, we’ll see where we are at.

HPW: There are very few teams that could lose two linebackers who transferred, another one who graduated (Kila Kamakawiwo‘ole) and still have an elite crew. Where will Jordan (Botelho) and Nick (Herbig) be?

Cal Lee: Jordan is at left outside linebacker and Nick is at right OLB. They both had great years last year as juniors.

HPW: Jordan committed to Notre Dame and Nick to Wisconsin. Incredible.

Cal Lee: Now it’s just a matter of, they have this attitude that last year is last year and nothing’s going to come free, why not try to become even better? That’s the only way to look at it. It’s like a guy who runs track, he ran the 100 in 9.9, what do you run this year?

HPW: What is the depth chart like at OLB?

Cal Lee: (Pride) Cui and (Po‘okela) Louis. They’re competing.

HPW: Your inside ‘backers will be busy again.

Cal Lee: Yeah, Mason Tufaga and Lawai Brown. Lawai started last year. I think Lawai is smart. I really think this is his third year starting inside, I like his attitude, comes to practice every day trying to get better. Mason is the other one who played a little bit last year and is working hard this year to start. We’re still trying to get better at tackling, doing the things we need to contribute.

HPW: Who is in the rotation there?

Cal Lee: (Iona) Purcell and Tasi Tadio.

HPW: I remember Iona from the UH camp. He’s only a freshman, but he predicted he would be the first one to block a kick this season. The secondary has some experience with (all-state safety) Kamo‘i Latu.

Cal Lee: (Latu) is at free safety and Kaiser Cho is our strong safety.

HPW: Korvin Feagins was a standout at cornerback who graduated. Junior Wily graduated, too.

Cal Lee: We’ve got Brian Cox. He’s got a groin injury, could be back by August. We’re still looking at a lot of guys.

HPW: Let’s rewind a bit back to the transfers.

Cal Lee: I hear so much about public school guys transferring left and right. It’s all right they can do that (within the OIA).

HPW: Wynden has a bunch of scholarship offers. Then he’s gone.

Cal Lee: He would’ve competed. Whatever reason, he transferred. (Kamalu) DeBlake, he was another LB who’s at Mililani (now). He was our snapper too. Hunter (Apau), a receiver, he’s going to Waialua.

HPW: Do you feel like it was cost of tuition or other factors?

Cal Lee: The whole thing about it, we had a couple days of spring ball, five days of working out before school ends. They were there. You would think they were coming back.

HPW: But you don’t know why they left?

Cal Lee: I never called to find out. Maybe they want to go somewhere where they can play. Maybe it’s closer to home.

HPW: But you’re still deep at linebacker.

Cal Lee: If they came back, we’d have a little more depth because they’re veterans. Maybe the next guy coming up, I have a freshman coming up. Purcell. He’s got a great attitude. I had to say, what grade is he going to be? I thought he was playing JV. Come to find out, he was playing intermediate (last year) because he’s only going to be a freshman. Wow. His brother played for me a couple of years ago. I liked Noah. For this one to be a freshman, he’s going to be something special down the road. He interacts with the seniors and juniors. He gets along with the rest of the boys and he shows up on the field determined, and I like the way he moves on the field.

HPW: Special teams is next. You had a good one last year in Garyn Napuunoa.

Cal Lee: We’re going to start next week with a couple of kids who will try out. So I really don’t know. Our kickoffs were by Soma Kasahara, now walking on at Southern Utah.

HPW: Who is your punter?

Cal Lee: We don’t have a punter. We have to find one. Drake (Pacheco, 6-0, 264), he’s a sophomore from the JV, but he’s not a lock. You’d be surprised when you put it out there, you find guys.

HPW: Could you load it up at kick and punt return?

Cal Lee: Yeah, a possibility is a guy like Wilson. Teams that don’t have (touchback) kickers, he’s a real threat there.
He’s great in the open field. Shifty. He doesn’t only have gear.

HPW: The value of a touchback kicker is huge. Same with returners.

Cal Lee: Last year was the first in the Open. Before that it was always touchbacks by Kamehameha and Punahou. On special teams, you have to use your weapons. Keanu Wallace, his dad played for me. He’s another good one, a wide receiver. Good speed, good moves.

HPW: OK, Coach, lets do roll call with the schedule. No games until week three.

Cal Lee: We had a team, but I don’t want to mention who. They had a lot of kids on AP. It wouldn’t be worthwhile if their kids were missing two weeks.

HPW: First game, Aug. 15, at Kapolei. I’m hearing (former UH player) Ricky Lumford is their new OC.

Cal Lee: They’re competitive. Last year, we struggled a little bit. (Note: Saint Louis won 30-22.) We’ve got to get ready for them. The whole schedule, is there a game that’s easy? There is none. We have to concentrate on our first game and not look beyond our first game. We know they’re a good team, well coached. That’s enough incentive to play at their place again.

HPW: Then it’s on the road again at Campbell (Aug. 23)

Cal Lee: They’re going to be a lot better. They got a new offensive coordinator (Jaymason Lee) and a new defensive coordinator. Blaze Soares, he was my linebacker (at Hawaii). He’s enthusiastic. I really thought that he could’ve played pros, but he had an injury his junior year. The Achilles. I know him personally, so they’re going to be fired up.

HPW: No breaks or rest. The following week (Aug. 30), Bishop Gorman at Aloha Stadium.

Cal Lee: Well, everybody knows Bishop Gorman. They’re a good football team with a lot of good players, a lot of success. Hopefully, we can compete with somebody like that.

HPW: Then it’s a hungry Kamehameha squad (Sept. 6) at Aloha Stadium.

Cal Lee: I like Abu Ma‘afala. He’ll get them fired up and ready to play. They’re going to be well coached. A lot of good players there. We have a lot of rivalries with Kamehameha that go way back. It’s going to be exciting, no question. Who knows what happens. Guys with no experience might show up, start, win games. It’s about us being ready mentally to play.

HPW: Then it’s eight days until Kahuku at Aloha Stadium (Sept. 14).

Cal Lee: Another tough game. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play another tough game. Every year, they’re tough. I don’t care what their record is right now. It’s Kahuku, and we expect them to battle. You’ve got to play 48 minutes, four quarters.

HPW: Six days later, Saint Louis and Punahou at Aloha Stadium (Sept. 20).

Cal Lee: I’m always, to me it doesn’t matter who we play. It’s how we practice that determines how we play. Back then, I would stress this a lot. You’ve got to get them in their minds. They’re kids. We have to work hard. Those guys are going to be ready to play. We practice for teams that have two backs, a tight end. You’ve got to be ready for that.

HPW: Punahou has that package, for sure. If they went traditional, would you line up in a 4-3? Who would be your middle linebacker?

Cal Lee: If we had to go MLB, it would be Tufaga. Most LBs want to get in the meat and grind. I don’t think any LB wants to go after any WR. He wants to get in the meats and start grinding. If they go to a full house backfield, we can’t be what do we do now.

HPW: A week later, Mililani (Sept. 27) at Aloha Stadium.

Cal Lee: (Aloha Stadium) is kind of like our home field. I think they’re going to be a good football team. They’re a good program, the record shows it. It’s going to be tough. It doesn’t get softer game after game. What it does is makes you get ready. You’ve got to be ready to do both, not one or the other. There’s times when you get after them, times when you sit back. This game is about 11 people and we’re not playing pass league. Most quarterbacks can pass the ball given time. They’ve got receivers. They’re the real deal.

HPW: The last two regular-season games are at school fields after five in a row at the stadium. Saint Louis is at Farrington (Oct. 4).

Cal Lee: I like the field, honest. It’s a real nice field. I think the crowd, it’s not like they’re close. They’re another team that will be tough, too. The coach’s second year, and after your first year, you always know what you have to do to get better. They’ve got his system down and I’m sure they’re fired up, ready to go.

HPW: Then at Waianae (Oct. 11).

Cal Lee: I know Mike Fanoga. He’s going to spread it out. He was coaching with the guru with the wideouts, four wides in college. I think he’s going to open it up, spread it out. He’s got that college experience, and like anything else, first year, he’s got to know the kids, the kids got to know him. He’ll get that ball rolling sooner than later.

HPW: There were long stretches without games in the ILH before Open Division started. This stretch, is it a plus or minus?

Cal Lee: Things always happen for a reason. As a player or coach, you want a game, but maybe this is good for us. Don’t have to rush, can take our time. To be honest, to have a game this week coming up (early August), it would be too fast. There’s so much to teach. When do you start practicing special teams? 7-on-7 is almost year round, but now you have to work on kickoff, kick return, punts, punt return. You don’t have enough time. This could be a blessing. We can spend more time executing.


  1. ??? August 15, 2019 10:26 am

    Q&A: Saint Louis coach Cal Lee loves a challenge!

    If he loves a challenge he would play 3-4 top mainland schools a year like Gorman, Bosco, Mater Demi & IMG does.

  2. ahinalu August 15, 2019 2:09 pm

    Coach Cal you and your staff ” Groom Them Well Up At Kalaepohaku ” !

  3. Hank August 15, 2019 2:48 pm

    If he loved a challenge he would have stayed at Kalani and built that program. Easy to win at St. Louis when you can recruit the best kids from the entire state. Too Easy!!!!

  4. ??? August 15, 2019 4:27 pm

    Thank you!

  5. 808rep August 15, 2019 5:21 pm

    @hank, ???, n rest of the haters.

    Easy to talk smack on here. Too easy!!

  6. ??? August 15, 2019 9:41 pm

    explain how is speaking the truth, talking smack?
    We’re waiting!!!!!!!!!

  7. 808rep August 16, 2019 4:17 am

    @??? Explain to me how u are speaking the truth?

  8. ??? August 16, 2019 8:26 am

    He loves a challenge. Lol
    Stay & Build a championship team at Kalani (Too challenging)
    Play 3-4 Top teams a year: Bosco, Mater Dei, IMG De La Salle. (Too challenging)
    Keep recruiting and beating up Hawaii teams Too EASY)
    There’s your TRUTH!!

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