Crusaders still command respect
Not that Delbert Tengan prefers to face the world with his back to the wall.
He does know how to deal with adversity, though, and so do his Saint Louis Crusaders. Perseverance will come in handy this fall since the Crusaders return from last year's league championship squad without an abundance of senior leadership.
The rock of the offensive line, Ana Tuiasosopo, has graduated. So have defensive ends Solomona Aigamaua and Scott Smith, as well as linebacker Jacob Barit. All four were Star-Bulletin All-State first-team selections.
In spite of the losses, coaches and media voted Saint Louis No. 2 in the Star-Bulletin Football Preseason Top 10. The Crusaders open the season with a nonconference matchup with defending state champion Kahuku on Friday at Aloha Stadium.
Small school or not, voters continue to give Tengan and his staff the utmost respect. Whether that translates to a better season -- Saint Louis went 11-1 and lost in the Division I state title game -- remains to be seen.
"We have a good nucleus coming back," Tengan said. "A lot of guys who didn't start, but got a lot of playing experience. One of the biggest things this team has is that they saw and experienced the leadership of our seniors last year. They know what it takes to get there, and now it's their turn to carry the ball, so to speak."
The Crusaders' flex option offense and bone-crunching defense were superior with 11 wins in their first 11 games. Micah Mamiya's ability to read defenses and run free on huge third-down plays was an X factor that no defense could temper. That is, until Mamiya suffered a collarbone injury in the state semifinal. Saint Louis then lost to Kahuku in the state final 7-6.
NO. 2 SAINT LOUIS CRUSADERS
Here's a look at Saint Louis' results from the 2006 football season and its schedule this season:
McKinley -- W 42-7
Leilehua -- W 20-0
Castle -- W 17-3
Kamehameha -- W 10-3
Punahou -- W 38-33
Pac-Five -- W 41-20
Punahou -- W 33-27
Kamehameha -- W 17-14
Damien -- W 44-0
Iolani -- W 44-21
Waianae -- W 10-7
Kahuku -- L 7-6
Aug 17 -- Kahuku
Aug 24 -- at Kailua
Aug 31 -- at Aiea
Sept. 21 -- Punahou
Sept. 29 -- Kamehameha
Oct. 5 -- Iolani
Oct. 12 -- Punahou
Oct. 20 -- Damien
Oct. 26 -- Pac-Five
Nov. 3 -- Kamehameha
The Interscholastic League of Honolulu's offensive player of the year has returned with a vengeance.
"Having Micah back at full strength is great. He's stronger than ever, had a great offseason in the weight room," Tengan said, noting Mamiya's max of 255 pounds on the bench press.
Mamiya has returnees Keahi Nishigaya and Austin Wakinekona to work with in the backfield. He also has a big-play target in Billy Stutzmann. Former backup quarterback Tamatoa DeMello will also line up wide, as will 6-foot-3 hoopster Micah McClinton and track star Trevor Mau. Ryan Iaia leads a young posse of slotbacks.
The O-line is where the staff is hoping for quick improvement.
"Ana was the glue to our offensive line," Tengan said. "He played on a bad ankle, ripped the webbing between his thumb and index finger three times, but he never complained and never missed a practice."
Defensively, a depleted unit suffered a blow when defensive end Ikaika Cavaco-Amoy suffered a fractured ankle at a summer camp in Utah.
"He's kinda like Mona: high energy, big motor, quick off the ball," Tengan said of the 6-2, 225 pounder. Cavaco-Amoy could return in time for the start of the ILH regular season in late September.
The Crusaders are rock solid in the trenches with tackles Ryan Eastman and Geordon Hanohano. The secondary returns three starters: cornerback Todd Nakano, free safety Manoa Latu and strong safety Christopher Kamaka.
Stephen Donahue and Kapa Ihi-Umebayashi will get the nod at inside linebacker in Tengan's 4-2 base defense.
Since being promoted from assistant coach to head coach, Tengan has amassed a record of 37-10 in four seasons, including a state crown in 2002. Though the Crusaders could again march to the state championship game with a healthy Mamiya, Tengan has always kept his team focused on the basics.
"Halfway through last year, we were No. 1 until we got bumped off. Rankings are good for the fans. It gives them something to talk about over coffee in the morning and at the tailgate parties. Bottom line is it's a long season and you gotta avoid key injuries," he said.
"Along the way, the ball has to bounce your way every so often. Every championship team on any level there were games along the way that easily could've gone the other way, Tengan added. "You're gonna need some of that."