No games for two weeks is no problem for Cal Lee.
“We’re practicing,” the Saint Louis football coach said. “It’s not like you’ve gotta rush. I don’t mind. It’s more time to prepare. What’s wrong with that?”
Top-tier state champions three years running, the Crusaders don’t hit the field for real until Thursday, Aug. 15, at Kapolei.
Lee, however, does have a problem with putting athletes in game-like situations too early. He would also prefer a later start and a later end to the season.
“The first day of practice is July 17 with helmets,” he said. “We put the pads on July 22, and we’re scrimmaging July 25. And the next week, there’s games (for many teams, not including Saint Louis this season).
“Tell me, is that enough time? Three or four weeks in pads would be good to prepare. The way it is now, they’re not used to wearing the uniform and practicing in the uniform.”
Part of the reason Lee didn’t schedule any games for the Crusaders last week, though, is because mainland teams haven’t started yet. Saint Louis also ended up with an OIA-ILH Open Division bye this week.
“It’s hard to schedule against (mainland teams) this early,” he said.
Lee suggested starting the season a week later and ending it a week later.
“There’s a lot to take care of, special teams, offense and defense,” he said. “There’s a lot to do. Preparation is the key. We aren’t going to schedule a (nonleague) game just because everybody else is playing one. But there are too many people involved in the decision-making. They don’t know what we’re going through trying to get ready.”
The Crusaders boys have a slightly different take on all of this preparation. They’re loving the practice, but like any kid, they want to play games as soon as possible.
“Everyone wants to play a game,” defensive lineman Stanley McKenzie said. “We’re taking it out on each other every day, butting heads, trying to take each other’s heads off. But doing that at practice will make a game that much easier.”
Lately, McKenzie’s biggest war during practice comes against Matagi DuPont.
“I’d say he’s the best center in the state right now,” McKenzie said. “He’s aggressive when he has to be. He waits for you to make a move. But once he gets his hands on you, you’re basically done.”
McKenzie has been a part of all the three Saint Louis D-I state championships in a row and is going for four.
“I was brought up to varsity during freshman year,” he said. “Couldn’t play ILH games. Got to play against Waianae in the state tournament, but not in the championship game.”
Is there pressure for another title?
“Pressure only happens when you’re not totally prepared,” McKenzie said. “Everybody out there is prepared, so now the main goal is just focusing on getting Kapolei (first game at the Hurricanes’ home field on Thursday, Aug. 15) … not focusing on the state title first. Last year was too close of a game (38-17 win over Mililani in the Open state final). We want to show everybody what we’ve got this year.”
In youth football, McKenzie was part of a mega line on the offensive side of the ball that also included Faaope Laloulu (former St. Francis and current Farrington 6-foot-5, 390-pounder) and Faatui Tuitele (Saint Louis’ 6-3, 300-pound state defensive player of the year last season who is now playing or the University of Washington) at tight end.”
McKenzie will play mostly defensive tackle this season, but will get some action at end.
“Maybe for some rest, get some 1-on-1s on the outside,” he said.
Coach Lee was asked to produce an offensive player, a leader but not necessarily a starter to answer some questions for the boys on that side of the ball.
Up stepped Connor Apo (6-1, 175), a junior quarterback. He and sophomore A.J. Bianco (6-3, 210) are behind incumbent senior starter Jayden de Laura (6-1, 190).
“We’re putting the pieces together,” Apo said. “And the offense should be pretty good this year. Jayden is a good quarterback. He showed he could play every year. I try my best (to push him). A.J. is a big kid who’s got skills. Us three, we push each other in practice, making sure we’re competing to the best of our ability.”
Apo knows that in the game of football, backups can get called in for a variety of reasons.
“I’m trying my best to be ready,” he added.
Apo, who Lee said was No. 2 at the position behind de Laura, was asked to mention any up-and-coming Crusaders receivers.
“Trech Kekahuna is an incoming freshman and he is going to be a big dude for us,” he said. “He’s young, but he’s shown he’s got skills already and his future is bright the next four years.”
Apo, too, would welcome a real game soon.
“We’re anxious to play another team,” he said. “It’s been a long time, three weeks, going against each other. We want a different look. But we are getting each other better, focusing on each other so we are ready for the season.”