When Darnell Arceneaux was coaching Pop Warner football a couple of years ago, he thought about it often.
"I promised myself that if I ever got back here I’d make the most of it," he said.
And now, in the first season of his second go-round as Saint Louis varsity head football coach, that’s exactly what he has done, with the Crusaders’ 36-13 state championship victory over Waianae last night at Aloha Stadium.
It was like old times for Arceneaux, who quarterbacked Saint Louis at the peak of its dynasty in the 1990s.
"It’s all about the roots," said star defensive end Juda Parker, moments after showering Arceneaux with the celebratory beverage bucket as the clock ran down on Saint Louis’ 17th win in the final game — but first since 2002, the year before a 25-year old former Crusaders quarterback — Arceneaux — coached his alma mater to within one point of the state championship.
"When you have a school that you’re attached to, and they need you back, you have to go," Parker said.
Last spring, you couldn’t blame the Crusaders if they felt unwanted. After the school and last year’s head coach, John Hao, parted ways, the search for a new leader went on for weeks. It included rampant speculation and near-misses and confusion.
"We worked out on our own, at Kapiolani Park, wherever," said senior cornerback Leland Gomez, whose two interceptions helped seal last night’s win. "We still had pride, and we still wanted to bring the banners back to Saint Louis. When Coach was finally hired, I knew Mr. Paola (athletic director Ed) made a great decision."
Arceneaux brought in a whole bunch of new assistant coaches and offensive schemes, but also an emphasis on the fundamentals that helped Saint Louis be on top for so long.
"He made it easy for us," said quarterback Marcus Mariota, who turned in his typically spectacular effort with three touchdown passes and total command of a complicated hybrid offense last night. "He stepped in and kept everything rolling. He didn’t try to change anything, the new things were relatively easy. Kept some of what we had and brought in some new.
"He had the trust and respect from us from the beginning. He’s the man, what? Three Prep Bowl championships?
And now, a state championship — as a coach.
This was different than most of those seven times when Saint Louis beat Waianae in the Prep Bowl. This was a different kind of Waianae team than we saw in the past. Not as big, but more athletic. Guys somersaulting over tacklers into the end zone, guys returning kickoffs 94 yards.
But the Saint Louis defense took over in the second half. Parker’s fumble recovery and Gomez’s interceptions stopped Seariders possessions on the Crusaders side of the field. Gomez’s pick near the end zone with 5:41 left and the score 36-13 sealed it.
"We knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park," Gomez said. "But this was about all the work in the summer, some of it on our own. All the times coming in at lunch for extra work with (defensive backs coach Ricky) Lumford."
Gomez said new defensive coordinator Matt Wright had the Crusaders playing more zone this season, and that’s the coverage he was in for both picks.
"You stay in your coverage and good things happen," he said.
And, in the case of Darnell Arceneaux, you come home and good things happen.
"I think (transitioning back) was easy," Arceneaux said, although he’s the first to admit beating Waianae wasn’t. "I’ve grown as a coach. Some of the finest advice I got was surround myself with good people. Since the first time, I learned that it’s a grind and struggle at all levels."