The Saint Louis Crusaders are 8-0 with wins over some of the state’s finest teams.
Punahou. Kamehameha. Waianae. Toss in a wild victory over Narbonne (Calif.) and they are No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Football Top 10, and also the top seed in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division State Championships. They have outscored foes 360-104, and that resume includes Top 10 teams in seven of those eight games.
For Cal Lee, none of that matters. Today’s matchup with Mililani in the semifinal round is a make-or-break game for the season. After 315 varsity games as a head coach, Lee is laser-focused on this and only this battle. Lee chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Thursday.
Saint Louis football
Career: 271-39-5 (.868)
HPW: Coach Rod York (of Mililani) always points to Saint Louis as the blueprint for his offensive schemes. In some ways, their four-wide sets are mirror images of what you and Coach Ron Lee have mastered.
Lee: I know they run a lot of stuff we run. If we run option, they run almost the same thing, similar. They’ve got a quarterback (Dillon Gabriel) who can throw the ball, receivers that can catch, a good O-line. They have a pretty good package, and their QB is a dual threat. They can run the ball if they want to. It’s too bad, I mean that touchdown that they threw that they got called back (against Kahuku last week in the OIA final).
HPW: That’s the play where Gabriel did a quick-kick punt. Punted it into his teammate’s back, caught the ball and threw a TD pass.
Lee: That’s a legal play, definitely. If they had instant replay, they would’ve fixed it. But the state doesn’t want instant replay. They have the facilities at Aloha Stadium. It’s unfortunate that it could happen.
HPW: I never looked into the rule book on that play.
Lee: You can throw it. That’s a fact. Then (officials) called illegal man downfield (after conferring), wrong call. Nobody was downfield. I looked at the film. It’s too bad they couldn’t review. You put a lot of time and effort, and find out later it’s a legal play. It’s too late.
HPW: The two weekends off, normally not good for rhythm and momentum, but at this time of year, it’s a good thing for most teams.
Lee: Everybody, you know, we had a couple weeks off. Everybody’s healthy and ready to go.
HPW: Do you give the guys some time off? Or is it more of the same routine.
Lee: We do the same routine. We had to find out who we play. It’s hard to practice for somebody without knowing who you play against. It’s work as normal.
HPW: A year ago at this time, you were going through a very difficult situation with a kidney stone, always in pain, just marching forward through everything. Your staff helped a lot until you returned from the surgery.
Lee: I think back then you had pain and you weren’t focused as much. Now you can concentrate more and do everything you should do. Hopefully, you’re ready for everything.
HPW: Defensively, your front seven has answered every call, but Gabriel has been so good with his decisions.
Lee: He’s a good QB. He can throw it and run a lot, make you miss tackles. We practice for that, go after him. He’s a threat because some QBs, they can’t run, but if you have a QB who can run, you’ve got to make sure you have great coverage on him.
HPW: Mililani’s defense has been very sound, but they’re facing a very similar challenge with your QB, Chevan Cordeiro.
Lee: Chevan is a threat, and we talk to him about being smart, when to get out of bounds, when to slide. No need to try and run over somebody.
HPW: Your offensive line has been stellar.
Lee: We’re real happy with what they’ve done so far. We’ve just got to keep it up. It’s a real challenge because Mililani’s front four is real good, Their linebackers are active and they’ll blitz you. We’ve got to be ready for whatever comes at us. It’s about executing.
HPW: I always recall the days when you had big backs like Prince Brown. Now it’s about speed and elusiveness in space. But those same speedsters have to provide some pass protection.
Lee: We’ve worked a lot of with that, so we’ve got to fill that gap and take it on.
HPW: I wonder if Coach Ron has suggested a few twists to you, like maybe linebacker Noa Purcell lining up at running back now and then.
Lee: We always talk about personnel. Big back. But it is what it is. But you get to think outside the box, not just in the box, hey, that might be a good idea.
HPW: Your history with Rod York, he considers you a tremendous mentor.
Lee: We go to clinics, I took him to a couple we went to and we got to know each other. He always asks questions, and that’s how you get better. Just like you would anyone else. You want to get better, so you ask questions with people you feel comfortable with. That’s what I did before. I asked questions. We have a good rapport. I don’t hide things or talk to him before I play him the next day, but offseason, we always chat. I remember watching him when he was playing at UH. We’d sit underneath the tree, the dad (Rod Tanu) was there, and we’d watch him play. A few years later, he’s coaching and doing a good job too.
HPW: Especially at public schools, it really comes down to dedication because there’s no real money involved and it averages out to a few cents per hour.
Lee: All the coaches do it because they like to help kids, because they went through it. I think of the coaches that were there for me. Without them, where would I be? Tommy Kaulukukui was my Pop Warner coach. I always remembered him. I played with his son, Tommy Jr. You get the good experience and they make it fun when you play football, and you like the game through high school and college. I have so much respect for all the coaches that helped me through today.
HPW: The thread from the past to the present matters. Kids having fun and learning discipline as a team.
Lee: I think the kids realize you care for them. You’re not just there to win games. By the way you coach and how you talk to them, you’re always doing it for them. Everything you do is for them. It’s hard work and when they go out in the real world, it’s not easy. It’s about working hard.
HPW: Coaches work hard, too.
Lee: There’s a lot of sleepless night. You ever try to go to sleep thinking about the game? It’s not easy. You start going Longs (Drugs) and getting sleeping pills.