With the two-time defending champion Saint Louis Crusaders making their season debut on Friday against Waianae, offensive coordinator Ron Lee chatted with Hawaii Prep World.
Lee spoke with HPW on Wednesday about the offensive unit and the prospect of developing young starters everywhere. The presence of three returning starters at offensive line, Lee said, is a major plus.
HPW: There’s a lot of talent that graduated from last year’s squad, especially on offense.
Ron Lee: We’re still evaluating. We have four quarterbacks, 20 receivers, so giving everybody reps it’s a long process, you know. We have six running backs and only one can take a rep. So to really get a real good evaluation, you need to play in games. We had close to 100 kids out, so we try to give everyone a chance. The scrimmages we’ve had, the first group might take 10 to 15 plays for the whole scrimmage. That’s it.
HPW: That’s real tough, having to analyze every rep at practice for that many players.
RL: We evaluate each practice. We shoot tape of every practice. We won’t really know where we’re at until we play our first game.
HPW: That’s a huge benefit, having footage of every snap.
RL: We also teach off the tape, too. We spend a lot of reps going against each other. They give us a real good look. It’s almost as good as having scrimmages, especially during the summer, we had time to look at film of the kids.
HPW: With a talented passer like Jayden (de Laura), it might be unfair for fans to expect him to be at the same level that Chevan Cordeiro was at last year.
RL: Chevan was with us for three years. He didn’t play a ton because he was behind Tua (Tagovailoa), but he had a lot of mental reps, reps at practice. With Jayden, he hasn’t done much. This is really his first year since he played intermediate football at Damien. He sat out (one year) and he’s come a long way since he started, but we’ll find out a lot more in the game. He’s pretty raw, too. He’s a good athlete and can throw the ball, but learning the system.
HPW: Who are your other candidates at quarterback?
RL: We have a freshman quarterback and Connors from the JV, so we’re really young at QB.
HPW: When Mouse Davis was in town recently, so was Colt Brennan (coaching with Konawaena). I thought that would’ve been a heck of a roundtable discussion: you, (UH head coach) Nick Rolovich, Mouse and Colt.
RL: Yeah, that would’ve been fun.
HPW: So happens that Chevan is there this fall, but do you have any thoughts on UH re-implementing the four-wide this season?
RL: Whether you call in run-and-shoot, or four wide, it’s hard to have a lot of cooks. You need to do it one way. Back then we had Dan Morrison, Mouse, then Rolo, Stutz (Craig Stutzmann), Brian Smith — they all have their own ideas. The ideas are good, but when you teach, you all have to be on the same page. This offense, everybody has to be on the same page. Receivers, quarterback, O-line, the whole nine yards. That takes time. For us, we’ve been back (at Saint Louis) for five years. Howard (Peralta) and Vinny (Passas) been with us a long time, so everyone is very familiar.
HPW: I remember fans being impatient sometimes. Tim Chang learned the system from you for six years before coming to UH. It’s pretty much a martial art and he was basically a black belt. Then when Rolo got on the field, he’d just been learning it for six months and they expected perfection. He just needed time to learn everything and he was great.
RL: No question they’ll get it done, just takes time. I heard good things, they’re moving the ball and guys are picking it up, got some receivers that can run.
HPW: Let’s talk about your O-line.
RL: This is really our strong point. We have four starters back. That’s really a huge plus. At left tackle, Justice Mills started last year. Left guard, of course, we’ve got Arasi Mose (offers from Hawaii and UNLV). At center, Matagi was hurt last year. He’s a junior. At right guard, we have Mana, and right tackle, Ben Scott started last year. (Scott has six offers.)
HPW: That’s a lot of experience coming back.
RL: They all played right up through the whole season. They have to be a lot better than they were last year. They have the potential to be pretty good, but time will tell. The strength of the league is the defenses we will play. Kahuku, Mililani, Punahou, Campbell, Waianae, Farrington, everybody is loaded on defense. We’re fairly young on offense outside of our O-line. Our receivers are very young. They didn’t play much. We lost a lot of guys, two of our top wide receivers and our top wide receiver got hurt. Matt Sykes got hurt at the UH camp, broke his femur.
HPW: Yikes. That’s sad. His older brother, Chris Sykes, sat out last year as a senior with an injury, too.
RL: Yeah, he got hurt in the first preseason game.
HPW: The losses at receiver are significant.
RL: We lost Mitch Quinn, Jonah Panoke, Tosh (Kekahuna-Kalawe) and the slots. And all of the backs graduated, so we’re starting all over. It’s going to be a real challenge, so we have to build around our offensive line.
HPW: After all these years of two- and three-week byes in the ILH, now you barely have any in Open Division.
RL: Every game is going to be a tough game and we really need to come around quickly. We don’t have the luxury with our schedule. Waianae, Narbonne, Mililani, Punahou, Kahuku. We don’t have time to relax, we’ve got to come around. Everybody’s in the same boat. A tough one every week, but I think that’s good. You look at the first (nonleague) week, there’s a big disparity among certain teams. Some teams win by 50 or 60, so what’s the sense. I like this, whether you win or lose, it’s going to be competitive.
HPW: I can see the first-place team having two losses or more.
RL: Going unbeaten is going to be really tough.
HPW: What do you remember about the original combined format, the old ILH prior to the breakup in 1970?
RL: I graduated in 1962 from Saint Louis. When I coached later at Kalani, we played Saint Louis, Kamehameha, Punahou and the other four public schools — Kaimuki, Farrington, McKinley, Roosevelt. That was the league. It was a tough league. That was up until ’69. When they split for the OIA and ILH, the ILH was strong, but we had to battle through.
I remember when we were at Kaiser and won the Prep Bowl (in ’79), we had to play Farrington, McKinley, it was tough. Then play Kahuku, Castle, Kailua that were really strong, and then after that play the winner of the East and then the West. Kahuku, Waianae and Kamehameha to win the Prep Bowl.
HPW: Back then, a lot of Polynesian families lived in Waikiki and at the time, it was McKinley’s district.
RL: And Roosevelt had the Papakolea kids. Everybody was tough. The West, with Waipahu, Leilehua with Hugh Yoshida, Radford all very, very competitive.
HPW: Leilehua and Radford had huge enrollment numbers compared to now, and great talent.
RL: Right. The way it’s set up now, it’s like it used to be. It’s going to be a rough road for everybody. What’s nice is the Division I and II will be very competitive, too. Mililani, the kids, their size now, Kapolei, everybody’s got a shot. Campbell is going to be very competitive. You’ve got to get to work, it’s not going to be easy. Then you talk about the ILH with Punahou and Kamehameha, always physical and tough. It’s going to be fun. Kapolei and Kamehameha right of the bat. Saint Louis and Waianae, Punahou and Kahuku. Farrington plays Mililani.
HPW: So what do you know about Punahou?
RL: I don’t know much about their offense, they’ve got a lot of guys on defense. They’ll be a team to reckon with. Then it comes down to injuries. The schedules the teams have this year, that’s the key.
HPW: June Jones used to give his defensive guys a break at practice so they wouldn’t get hurt.
RL: It’s a fine line, you’ve got to be physical at practice. You can’t just turn it up on game night. We try to stay off the ground, but still be able to pick up the tempo. Cal (Lee)’s got some good ones on defense. He’s excited.
HPW: After all these years, it still takes immense time and energy to teach the four-wide offense. You’ve still got that drive, Coach.
RL: You need high energy. It is still teaching.