It’s been two weeks since Faatui Tuitele put his game uniform on.
This time, everything he and his teammates at Saint Louis (8-0, 7-0 ILH Open) have dreamt of is on the line. The No. 1 Crusaders meet No. 2 Punahou on Saturday at Aloha Stadium with the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Open Division championship at stake. The winner advances to the HHSAA State Championships. The loser closes shop for the year.
Tuitele, a defensive tackle who still has 39 scholarship offers, chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday.
HPW: Coach Cal (Lee) had a bacon smokehouse hamburger for breakfast this morning. You ever have the bacon smokehouse hamburger?
Tuitele: Is that from McDonald’s?
HPW: Yeah. It’s on the side of the menu I never look at.
Tuitele: I stick with the dollar menu myself.
HPW: Coach said he goes to bed thinking football. He wakes up thinking football. He probably dreams football.
Tuitele: I’m not surprised. A man of his caliber, football is everything. He’s won 300-something games. He’s a legend for a reason. To have a coach like him is a honor.
HPW: I don’t even know if he golfs or has any hobbies.
Tuitele: I have no idea what Coach Cal does in his personal life. I honestly think he just watches film, watches games and takes notes. It must be football all the time.
HPW: I asked if he thinks he’s obsessed with football, and he said, ‘Yeah.’ In a good way.
Tuitele: Us players have an obsession for football, too. If my coach shares the same obsession as us, it makes all that much better. We’re on the same page and we all try to make each other better.
HPW: I know Coach and the staff and you as a team don’t pay much attention to numbers aside from the scoreboard. But this is a team with a 23-game win streak. Coming off back-to-back state crowns. National rankings. Even Coach Kale Ane (of Punahou) says you have one of the top front sevens in the nation. Do you guys ever discuss anything about those things, or just block it all out?
Tuitele: We try not to focus on the hype and the media, what people say about our front seven and our defense. We try our best every day at practice, every single one of us. I give a lot of credit to our offense, as well. We go up against the best offense in the state every day. Going up against a Ron Lee-coached offense is difficult, I’m not going to lie. We bang and go all out. Each practice is game speed, and we try to do our assignments.
HPW: The offense has come along, the veterans on the line, the returnees at running back meshing with a lot of new starters at receiver and a new starter at quarterback. But defense is the cornerstone.
Tuitele: Our defense, I love our defense with all my heart, all the guys on the field with me. They make my job easier, especially Gino (Quinones) and (Stanley) McKenzie, (Liloa) Kapiko and (Isaiah) Filisi, and many more other guys. We all work together and we all know each other’s assignments. We know each other’s assignments, put a lot of time in with our linebackers, building that perfection in practice, perfecting our craft, getting our assignments down, getting it all going in the game, helping each other on the sideline when we’re off the field.
HPW: How do you get better as a defensive unit in the course of a game? There’s such a long, storied history on that side of the ball.
Tuitele: We try to let everyone know the tendencies of the offense, what the QB is saying. We always harp on swarming to the ball. Mainly playing physical Saint Louis defense. We love that burden on our shoulders. Saint Louis is known for their balls-out kind of guys. We carry that pride and tradition every day in practice.
HPW: Punahou is the one team that gave Saint Louis a huge battle when Jayden de Laura was healthy and playing.
Tuitele: Punahou’s a great team. They have a great offense, great coaches, great players. There’s always a dogfight with them.
HPW: Saint Louis has always come through in the second half defensively.
Tuitele: In the fourth quarter, it always comes down to the extra running and work we do at practice. I have no doubt we’ll execute our assignments and do what we need to do. Assignment football is the main key. Doing too little or too much is going to mess up the system. Everybody working together. Everybody’s unselfish on this defense. Even if we have to sacrifice our own body or our own gap for someone else to get free, then we do that. It’s about all 11 of us.
HPW: Last time we did a Q&A, you talked about the greatness of LA Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald, how you study his techniques. He just had four sacks against the 49ers.
Tuitele: I saw the highlights. He was killing the guard for San Francisco. I think he had a play where he sacked the guard into the quarterback’s lap. The intensity that he plays with, he’s so smart and uses his size to his advantage. He doesn’t let the size of an offensive lineman bother him. He finds way to get past the O-lineman. I think he deserves the defensive player of the year.
HPW: And to think he almost didn’t play this year. That’s all business between his agent and the front office. As a Rams fan, I’m glad it worked out. Do you have any shout outs?
Tuitele: Shout out to all my brothers. We’ve been practicing really hard this week for this ILH championship. I want to say I love you to all of them, I’ll put my body on the line for each and every one of them and I always got their backs. I know they got mine.