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The Crusaders’ “Next Man Up” Mentality

Wednesday, August 3, 2022 | By Nick Abramo

There’s a handful in sports media who are forecasting a downward path for the Saint Louis Crusaders in 2022.

That’s because the Crusaders lost a bunch of offensive contributors from the 2021 team that sputtered early and stopped the slide just in time to make it all the way to the Open Division state championship game. That’s where they ran into the power train also known as the Kahuku Red Raiders and lost handily, 49-14.

Four projected starters this fall who are missing on the offensive side of the ball transferred elsewhere — offensive lineman Iapani Laloulu, wide receiver Mason Muaau, and slotbacks Trech Kekahuna and Jaysen Peters-de Laura. Another player who transferred out may have turned into a starter — quarterback Jaron Keawe-Sagapolutele, who was a star a year ago on Saint Louis’ second varsity team.

Coach Ron Lee’s biggest job, for sure, is to get the offense running smoothly. Defensively, he believes, the team is quite capable.

Photo by Grant Shishido

“Those four guys were who we were going to build around,” the coach said in a recent cellphone interview.

The Crusaders, however, got a transfer boost of their own, when senior quarterback Kahi Graham returned after playing his junior year at Timpview, Utah. And Saint Louis is solid at the signal-caller position, with junior Kaunaoa Kamakawiwoole, who saw limited action as AJ Bianco’s backup in 2021, on the roster, too.

“Kahi and Noa are doing a good job,” Lee said. “And the O-line is coming around. The offense is young, but our defense is making them better. They’re coming up fast.”

It’s going to be a huge help having 6-foot-3, 265 pound sophomore Houston Kaahaaina-Torres at center. How good is that youngster? Ask the 14 college coaches who have offered him D-I FBS college scholarships even though he still has three high school seasons left.

“Another scrappy one on the offensive line is Justin Young,” Lee said.

And Lee is not fretting the offensive departures.

“For these kids, it’s the next man up,” he said. “From what I’ve seen so far, we’re getting better. They’re competing and are a lot quicker than last year. Last year, we were big, but not quick.”

Senior Chyler DeSilva and sophomore Titan Lacaden are two slotbacks who are expected to put up some numbers for Saint Louis, as is wide receiver William Lentz.

And it’s a full house on the defensive side, especially at linebacker.

Photo by Grant Shishido

“Defense, that’s our strength,” Lee said. “But we’ve got work to do. The defense is going to need to step up until the offense gets better. They (the defense) didn’t play that great last year.”

The summer months were a little tougher than usual for the Crusaders, who were not able to practice on their home field until the past few weeks.

“We were moving around everywhere,” the coach said. “They were tearing it up for the last couple of months, redoing the field and the track. There’s been a lot of obstacles due to COVID. But we’re finally back rolling.”

Uncharacteristically, Saint Louis finished 6-4 last fall, with two losses to ILH rival Kamehameha (23-21 and 34-31) and one each to national power Bishop Gorman (42-21) in Las Vegas and Kahuku.

Juniors Anelu Lafaele (6-2, 200) and Noah Wily (6-4, 225) and sophomores RJ Maafala (6-0, 195) and Vincent Tautua (6-3, 220) provide depth at linebacker, and senior Julian Savaiinaeaanchors the defensive line.

A big first game occurs Friday night when the Crusaders visit Mililani to play the Trojans. On Aug. 13, Saint Louis is Kauai-bound for a game against Division II reigning champ Kapaa.

Then, the Crusaders get another crack at Bishop Gorman, this time on Oahu at the Mililani field Sept. 2. The team’s ILH opener is Sept. 10 at Kamehameha.

Lee isn’t making any promises regarding wins and losses or championships.

“We just want to get better every day and be committed every day,” he said.

Photo by Grant Shishido

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