Q&A: Saint Louis coach Cal Lee on key battle with Mililani

Saint Louis coach Cal Lee yelled at his team during the first half of an ILH Open Division football game against the Punahou Buffanblu on Friday. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

This game means everything.

Football is life. So are academics. God. Family. Life as a Saint Louis Crusader means being a Crusader for life. Saint Louis, ranked nationally at No. 6 in the USA Today Super 25 and No. 7 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 and No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, has a big showdown on Friday with No. 3 Mililani.

Coach Cal Lee recalls his friendship with a former Los Angeles Rams head coach, and how life might have been a bit different as a result. Coach Lee chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Tuesday.

HPW: Thank you again, Coach Cal. What has practice been like going into the Mililani game?

Lee: We’re going over offense, defense, special teams.

HPW: How often do you have full contact?

Lee: Our full contact is on Mondays and Tuesdays.

HPW: I didn’t get a chance to interview you after the game with Punahou, so I want to catch up. Going with Koali Nishigaya at running back late in the game, were you surprised that Coach Ron (Lee, offensive coordinator) went with him?

Lee: No we worked with him. Whoever Ron puts in is going to do well.

HPW: Koali had mentioned in preseason that he played some running back in JV, but he’s also one of the best slot receivers in the state. That was a very calculated risk after Saint Louis had four fumbles lost.

Lee: He can’t play two positions. He’s got quickness, gets the ball, he can run with the ball. He’s a handful to cover, no question. You gotta like him. Tough and a team player.

HPW: Punahou’s defense has been elite all season, very disciplined. They were very physical against your team.

Lee: Punahou played really well. Any time you can get takeaways with fumbles, they’re taking it away, we’re not giving it away. We’ve got to do a better job of that. We were fortunate to come out of there with a win. Four fumbles, gave up a kick return for a touchdown, missed PATs, missed a field goal. You name it, we did it.

HPW: On the other side, it was another great performance by the Saint Louis defense.

Lee: I thought we played pretty good. Second half, we held them to three points. We played pretty good defense, but there’s always room for improvement.

HPW: What changed during halftime?

Lee: We’ve got to play a little better, know what we’re doing. We made mistakes in the first half, made corrections so we don’t do the same thing in the second half. They responded very well.

HPW: The next day, Mililani played St. John Bosco. Did you and the staff watch on TV or go to the game.

Lee: We saw it live. (Bosco quarterback DJ Uiagalelei) was everything that was written up for him. A handful for anybody.

HPW: Coach Rod (York) has always said that he wants that kind of competition, that level of great opponents.

Lee: You play competition, that’s how you find out your weaknesses so you can get better.

HPW: Did you see anything different or surprising about Mililani?

Lee: They did all the things we see them do, you know? Almost the things they’ve always been doing.

HPW: One similarity to Bosco, I think, is Saint Louis’ defensive line. Really athletic and getting a lot of penetration. But what Mililani saw last weekend probably helps them prepare for Saint Louis in the trenches.

Lee: We’re going to sure try. Certainly, our speed can help us. I think we have some guys who can get after it. Hopefully we can do it this week.

HPW: In the years when you and Coach Ron were at UH, I know June Jones always wanted his offense to get back on the field quickly. He didn’t exactly want his defense to bend, bend and not break. But Coach Rod would be happy with a six- or eight-minute drive and keep your offense on the sideline.

Lee: You want to make sure you stop them in three downs and make them punt. He’s got the ball, we can’t score. I would think that’s what any offense would like.

HPW: Has there ever been a time when you and Coach Ron talk during a game on the headset about something like that?

Lee: Not really, we don’t talk that much during games. He’s the offensive guy. I let him do what he’s good at doing. Defensively, you want to do the things you want to do to get the ball back. I think any defensive coach would.

HPW: What teams want to do against Saint Louis is that blueprint. It’s kind of like my old LA Rams in the 1970s, the Ground Chuck approach under Coach Chuck Knox. They had some good quarterbacks and receivers, but it was built around the running game.

Lee: That’s my good friend Chuck Knox, I coached with him 1995 at the Hula Bowl. I coached it a couple of years with Bo Schembechler, Chuck Knox. We spent one week together. We became very good friends. He was up for the Seattle Seahawks head coaching job. He told me, “If I get the job would you go with me?” We were very close. But he didn’t get the job. I didn’t know this, but when I was coaching at UH, we were practicing in the Seattle facilities when we played at Washington. He was on the hall of honor. I didn’t even know he had been there (earlier in the ‘80s). He passed away, but what a great guy. It was a blast.

HPW: This game features two teams that have been affected by transfers over the years. But this is a unique setting because a few Saint Louis players transferred to Mililani in the offseason. You and Coach Ron have talked about Wynden (Ho‘ohuli), Malosi Sam and Kamalu DeBlake before, about depth at those positions, playing time and other factors. What do you think about that aspect?

Lee: The rule that they have now, it’s funny they can go from private to public (school), they don’t have to sit out. They made that rule ’99 where public to private, you have to sit out because we won for all those years. What kind of rule is that? You’re hurting the kids that want to come (to Saint Louis). People think you recruit, but when you win, people want to go to a school that’s winning. For our league to do something like that, I thought was very unfair that a kid has to sit out.

HPW: It’s across the board, too. Players have always gone to the ILH and left the ILH.

Lee: You look at the OIA, one kid going to Farrington, one going to Campbell. Two kids in one house and they’re separating.

HPW: That would be the Aina-Chaves brothers, Jonan (Bubbah) and Jonah, leaving St. Francis when the school closed. But I think the dominance of Saint Louis during that first run was the major factor in upsetting what administrators consider competitive balance. It was the success you and your program had, ranked nationally many times. Almost too good. In a way, it was practically your own fault for having that much success. The national ranking this year is something Crusader fans are proud of.

Lee: I”m not looking at that.

HPW: I know. But it’s there are the fans, former players, alumni, they take pride in it. And it’s interesting that the voters didn’t demote Saint Louis for the close (25-19) win over Punahou. Maybe Punahou should be getting votes, too.

Lee: The bottom line, a win is a win. It’s in the win column, doesn’t matter what the score is. It’s a win. I’ll take the win, no matter what, no matter how bad you played. It was good football between two good teams.

HPW: I don’t think this is an issue, but this is the time of the season when physical, academic, and emotional fatigue can kick in. Add in the perfect record, and it’s possible for any team of high school kids to become complacent.

Lee: I don’t think we’re content, not after last week, you can’t be. Everybody knows what we’ve got to do to keep undefeated, don’t turn over the ball.

HPW: Mililani just had a huge game with Bosco, and now another huge game with Saint Louis.

Lee: I think they’re going to be fired up. It’s a big game for them. They played Bosco now they want to show up like they can play. I’m expecting a tough battle, no question.


  1. ??? September 26, 2019 1:17 pm

    Wah, wah, wah:
    Private schools have to sit out a year, kids leaving STL, I only get 8 starters with DI scholarships now I have to rebuild.
    Are you serious??
    Listen to Paul; the rule was made because of YOU and nobody else!! Look in the mirror.
    Great job Paul!

  2. 96730to89 September 26, 2019 4:49 pm

    I agree. Paul really pushed the subject and presented a very valid argument.

    I personally am not a fan of making kids sit out no matter where they transfer, but people on my side of the debate need a better spokes person than Cal. No one has sympathy for that guy. Lol.

  3. Ilh September 26, 2019 8:26 pm

    Cal Lee is correct, it should work both ways, sit out one year on transfers , All you negative people you just don’t like the best high school coach in Hawaii, just suck it up you losers, if Cal Lee was at Kamehameha he would turn them into many Championships too, he did turn Kalani around at one time, if he stayed a few more years Kalani would have won a Championship, But the Lou got him back at his roots coaching at Saint Louis, don’t you forget now, Punahou, Campbell, Mililani and a few other schools recruits too.

  4. notes September 26, 2019 8:57 pm

    Lee: The rule that they have now, it’s funny they can go from private to public (school), they don’t have to sit out. They made that rule ’99 where public to private, you have to sit out because we won for all those years. What kind of rule is that? You’re hurting the kids that want to come (to Saint Louis). People think you recruit, but when you win, people want to go to a school that’s winning. For our league to do something like that, I thought was very unfair that a kid has to sit out.

    LOLOLOLOL SAINT LOUIS AND THEIR “COACH” FINALLY ADMIT IT! not only do they recruit, but now he’s mad that he can’t recruit as much as he wants to becuase of the transfer rule. and now he wants the transfer rule gone so he can recruit even more! LOLOLOLOLOLOL CAUGHT RED HANDED!

  5. Dr. Phil September 26, 2019 8:57 pm

    ??? I’m pretty sure when Cal Lee looks in the mirror he sees A LOT of Football Championship Banners hanging behind him….lol May the best recruiter win tomorrow!

  6. ItIsWhatItIs September 26, 2019 9:16 pm

    You starting to sound like the Democrats on capital hill. He said when you win, kids WANT to come. Next week your gonna be calling for coach Cal to be impeached!! HAHAHA

  7. notes September 26, 2019 9:37 pm

    HAHAHAHA looks like somebody doesn’t know how to read between the lines, and his name is itiswhatitis. i would say you sound like a republican on capitol hill but republicans actually are intentionally lying and pretending ignorance. it’s probably true that kids want to go to st louis to play football. why? because saint louis spent decades recruiting and destroying public school football to the point that kids want to leave their schools to come here.

    OIA made the no red shirt rule to attract kids to leave their mercenary teams to go back to their communities. they trying to give incentive for kids to come back home so that OIA can finally try to rebuild their communities. cal lee is mad about this because he doesn’t want competition or parity. so what does he have to do? recruit harder

  8. ItIsWhatItIs September 26, 2019 10:02 pm

    So no impeachment? Hahaha
    Reading between the lines leads to opinions and strays away from facts. Advatange this, disadvantage that!! Everyone needs to move on!! Just because you live in a town that doesn’t make you property of the school in that district. Go to what ever school you want. If a school wants the best players then boost your program. If you build it they will come! As always good luck to all the boys balling out.

  9. Komatsu September 27, 2019 8:26 am

    instead of crying why dont you join the system and recruit. It is what it is. Its a private school which allows kids from any district to go to Saint Louis. THATS EXACTLY WHAT A PRIVATE SCHOOL IS. Half the Mililani team is not from Mililani, they recruit but still cant win it all, campbell recruits, they still cant win it all. At one Point Kapolei recruited , and they still couldt win it all, and we all know that Kahuku recruits family members from UTAH, POLYNESIAN ISLANDS, cut the BS , this is facts. So back to what i saying, stop crying and do something about it, lol. Hilarious adults on here acting like big big babies.

  10. Michael Arreola September 27, 2019 8:29 am

    Football is WAY too emphasized in Hawaii…Too much hoopla…The great St. Louis player Gary Campbell once said that. I graduated from St. Louis in 1972. St. Louis did not win many football games until 1967, with the great Ron Marciel teams. Get a life guys, and stop complaining. Life is more important than football.

  11. WE DA NORTH September 27, 2019 8:48 am

    To many people crying about recruiting in high school footbal! crying about Cal Lee and St louis destroying the balance of football and messing up communities. Campbell, Mililani, Moanalua everybody grabbing whatever kids they can. We, the TRUE UP NORTH don’t care!! We never did and never will. We just cheer on our boys whether we win or lose! Good luck to all teams this weekend! LIVE N DIE LBI!!

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