POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 5, 2013
At least Saint Louis coach Matt Wright has a little more time to prepare this season.
"I was announced the head coach in June and had no idea what I was getting into," said Wright, who was the Crusaders' defensive coordinator before taking over for Darnell Arceneaux two months before the start of last season.
"With having a full year now, I kind of know what to expect and I at least have an idea of what's going to come my way."
#3 SAINT LOUIS CRUSADERS
Prep Football Countdown
Preseason Top 10
3. Saint Louis
* -- Aloha Stadium
Saint Louis failed to win more games than it lost for the first time since 1982, finishing 5-5.
Nonetheless, the Crusaders check in at No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser's preseason top 10 poll for 2013.
"Once last year ended, I said to myself, ‘Hey, I've got to revamp my staff,' " said Wright, 34, who played college football at UH. "I brought in a defensive coordinator, I changed offensive coordinators, I did a whole bunch of things.
"There's still a learning curve, but we've got a foundation that has been laid."
The Crusaders return lots of experience on the offensive side of the ball, beginning with quarterback Ryder Kuhns (6-1, 225), who split time as the starter last year with Kawai Mook-Garcia.
Thrust into action as a sophomore due to injury and suspension, Kuhns had to carry a heavy load as a youngster but fared admirably, throwing for 246 yards off the bench in a 52-40 loss to national powerhouse Bishop Gorman of Nevada.
He also started against ranked teams Punahou, Farrington and ‘Iolani before Mook-Garcia took over for the final four games.
"There's no controversy behind it; Ryder is our guy," Wright said. "We've got guys behind him that are very, very talented and pushing (Kuhns) every day, but Ryder is our guy. He's gotten bigger and stronger from a physical standpoint and we're developing him into being more of a leader."
Kuhns has all kinds of weapons at his disposal, beginning with returning starter and first-team All-ILH running back Adam Noga.
Noga (5-10, 180) averaged 103.4 rushing yards a game last year as a dominant downhill runner with an explosive first move.
Wright cautions that the Crusaders aren't just a power running team, but have some other players who can torture opposing defenses with their speed.
"We've got great balance with our backs," Wright said. "(Noga) is that one-cut-and-he's-gone kind of player, but we've also got some shifty, speedy guys right behind him."
Sophomore Drew Kobayashi (6-2, 205), the intermediate ILH 400-meter individual champion in track last year, has the tools to replace last year's leading receiver, Jeremy Tabuyo, now at Texas A&M.
Seniors Devan Stubblefield (6-1, 205) and Jordan Eugenio (5-10, 165) bring returning experience on the outside, with Stubblefield also capable of playing the slot.
Junior tight end Spencer Johnson (6-3, 220) is another pass-catching threat, giving Kuhns plenty of firepower to work with.
"Any quarterback in the state would love to have the group of guys that Ryder has to throw to," Wright said.
He should have plenty of time to make his reads behind a stout offensive line that features returning second-team All-ILH junior Fred Ulu-Perry (6-2, 310) and senior Louis Vaiota (6-2, 315).
"That should be the strength of our offense," Wright said. "They are going to dictate a lot of what we do this season."
All-ILH first-team defensive back Jacob Lacaden (6-0, 210) is the leading returnee on defense.
The biggest question mark for Wright coming into the season is his front seven.
Defensive lineman Peter Sagapolutele (6-0, 240) serves as a co-captain with Lacaden, and Wright calls senior Michael Jennings (5-10, 190) his best linebacker.
"That's where we're putting a lot of focus right now," Wright said. "Defense is my bread and butter, it's where I'm most comfortable and it's what we're working the most on."
Saint Louis travels to War Memorial Stadium to play Baldwin opening weekend before a showdown with Kahuku at Aloha Stadium on Aug. 17.
The Crusaders begin the ILH season with Kamehameha on Aug. 30 and wait more than a month before playing Punahou on Oct. 4 under the new ILH scheduling format.
The team with the best record among the three ILH Division I teams will get a bye in the playoffs, facing the winner of a game between the other two for the right to play in the state tournament.
With only one game against both Punahou and Kamehameha during the regular season, one of the Crusaders' two biggest games will take place in August.
"How that's going to play out, I'm not sure," Wright said. "There's both positives and negatives, but we'll try to focus on the positives and be sure to get our boys ready to play everybody.
"With that type of mentality, it shouldn't matter who we're lined up against."