Could it be?
The Saint Louis Crusaders just might be back with a vengeance. After reaching the state final in 2007 and losing to Leilehua, they haven’t been to the postseason. With remnants of the dynasty that once was — Saint Louis won the last 13 Prep Bowls before winning state titles in 1999 and ’02 — blue-and-red devotees are feeling really good once again.
Saint Louis is loaded top to bottom at nearly every position, which made for a soft landing when former quarterback Darnell Arceneaux returned this summer. Changes in terminology and personality vary from one program to another when changes are made, but the Saints have welcomed Arceneaux back as football coach and assistant athletic director without a hitch, a good sign for a coach who guided the team to a state final in his previous stint.
This time, Arceneaux is seven years older and wiser, but hasn’t lost his wit and intensity. He’s slowed a tad, however, when it comes to running the field as a defensive scout — pads off.
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SAINT LOUIS 2010 SCHEDULE
» Aug. 13: def. Roosevelt, 48-8
Note: Home games at Aloha Stadium
"I probably don’t run around as much. I let the kids do that," he said, alluding to a challenging offseason program that consumed varsity and JV Crusaders alike. "There’s not a workout we haven’t had these 2 1/2 months when we haven’t laughed. Bust your tail, laugh, hug your teammates."
Those teammates have fans stirred up. Even opposing coaches have taken note.
"They’re huge offensively and quick defensively," Punahou coach Kale Ane said. "Their running backs are quick. They have good vision and burst. Defensively, I like the way they swarm to the ball. I like their routes and the way they block."
Arceneaux considers the ILH a league that doesn’t give a single week off, but his return ups the ante for the league’s coaches, as well.
"Darnell’s a great coach," Ane said. "He’s proven that wherever he’s been."
Arceneaux’s team is as talented as any in the state, but was quite relieved to learn that another program will have the bull’s-eye target on its back. It may not matter, though. Saint Louis is already in midseason form, playing like a No. 1.
On paper: The Crusaders have tasted success despite a musical-chairs rotation at the head coaching position since Cal Lee left. Delbert Tengan guided the Crusaders to a state crown, was replaced for a season by Arceneaux. Then came a return to the helm by Tengan.
Though Tengan went 22-2 in 2006 and ’07, Tengan and administrators at the time could not see eye to eye, and he left again only to be replaced by John Hao. The former Saint Louis quarterback was 15-6 in two years before being released. Tengan, who was in the running to return yet again, is now the defensive coordinator at ‘Iolani.
Now, Arceneaux is back in Kalaepohaku and plans to stay with his alma mater for a long time. The former Utah signal-caller left a solid program at Mililani, where he had offensive weapons galore.
Saint Louis is one of the few teams with even more firepower. Though he has never started, Marcus Mariota, who measures at 6-foot-35/8 and 190 pounds, was well-trained by passing guru (and assistant coach) Vinnie Passas and accepted a scholarship to Oregon in the offseason. He was efficient in a win over Roosevelt on Friday, rushing for 28 yards and passing for 188 more without a turnover.
"I was very impressed with Marcus. I like his height. He can see things clearer and he has a strong arm," Ane said after the Saints’ game with Roosevelt. "He’s legit and he has a good head on his shoulders."
The Saints’ deep weapons include Duke Bukoski (6-2, 190), an All-State second-team pick last season, and Joshua Tupua (5-10, 190). Bukoski and Tupua also provide sufficient downfield blocking. Their skill helped running backs Derek Nakasato (5-8, 180) and Keanu Mook-Garcia (5-9, 175) gain 260 combined rushing yards.
Of course, it begins in the trenches, where Saint Louis has one of the best offensive lines in the state. Afi Greig, Kelii Copp (6-1, 240), Houston Clemente (6-5, 275), transfer Paulay Asiata (6-5, 300) and sophomore Reeve Koehler (6-4, 270) anchor a deep array of protectors.
Defensively, few, if any units, can match the Saints. Linebacker Starr Sua-Passi, like Koehler, sat out the Roosevelt game while recovering from injury, but defensive linemen Juda Parker (6-3, 245), Na’Alii Robins (6-3, 245) and Kalei Auelua (6-4, 230) show signs of dominance on the edge.
Parker, who transferred to Saint Louis from Word of Life with Asiata, has already accepted a scholarship offer from Tennessee.
The skinny: There are a minuscule number of "pure" offensive philosophies that work in the modern game. Hao is a disciple of Ron Lee and re-established the run-and-shoot offense with some success.
Arceneaux, who was a scrambling quarterback during his day, has always preferred a mix of formations. The Crusaders lined up in four-wide sets against Roosevelt, but didn’t hesitate to use flex-option plays to accentuate Mariota’s amazing 4.3 (40-yard dash) speed.
The gist of it is impressive. Mariota has more than just agility and speed, the kind that made Oregon recruiters flash back to Dennis Dixon’s years. His decision-making has been sharp so far. Now Arceneaux has a good problem: How much will he risk the potential of injury to his heralded quarterback? Mariota’s low-carry number — four against the Rough Riders — might be a threshold.
They used the pistol with an offset-I formation to run basic, straight-ahead plays between the tackles. They went four-wide out of the shotgun on their own 1-yard line. Mariota spent much of the night handing the ball off, going deep from the pocket, and occasionally rolling out for old-school bullets through windows against zone defense or executing a speed/sprint option.
What’s difficult to gauge out of a few scrimmages and one nonconference game is whether the Saints are prepared for bigger teams with truckloads of returning players — teams like Punahou and Kamehameha.
Until then, their pass coverage hasn’t been tested. If Parker, Robins and Auelua bring pressure, that coverage may not be tested for some time. What’s clear, however, is that they can bring plenty of heat with the front four, which will give their linebacker corps the luxury of sitting on panicky quarterbacks.
Defensive back Kalei Contrades (5-10, 185) is back after suffering an injury last season.
Jesse Correa (5-10, 180) is among the better place-kickers statewide. He can be a weapon, particularly on kickoffs, where he has touchback capability, while returner Kaeo Aliviado (5-8, 170) has notable acceleration.
X factor: Dallas Tuumalo, a 5-10, 220-pound junior, gives Saint Louis something it hasn’t seen in ages: a tight end, and a good one at that.
The Star-Advertiser kicked off the high school football season with unprecedented coverage, featuring top players at each position and counting down to the top teams in the state. See below for past and upcoming stories.
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