Three of the top six teams in this week's Star-Bulletin high school football poll call the Interscholastic League of Honolulu's top tier home.
So expect another tight battle for the league title this fall.
Saint Louis, Punahou and Kamehameha all have reached the state championship game over the last three years, with the Warriors winning the crown in 2004 and the Buffanblu and Crusaders both losing heartbreakers to Kahuku the last two seasons.
Top-ranked Saint Louis went 3-0 in nonconference play a season ago and is blessed with experience throughout the depth chart.
No. 2 Punahou (2-0) features what could be the most explosive offense in school history. And No. 6 Kamehameha, under first-year coach David Stant, remains powerful and eager to prove it deserves to be even higher in the poll.
The ILH Division I schedule kicks off tomorrow with Kamehameha facing Punahou at Aloha Stadium. Saint Louis will have had three weeks off before facing the Buffanblu on Sept. 21.
There they are, the prized top dogs of the state's historically toughest football league.
Saint Louis, at No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. Punahou, at No. 2. Kamehameha, at ... No. 6?
Each of the Division I teams in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu has reason to be optimistic about a possible title, both in the league and state. But each also has a healthy dose of anxiety. That's life in the most cannibalistic league, perhaps in America, where academics and athletics are prime commodities.
Kamehameha went a long time between ILH titles before claiming one in 2004, but the hunger for another trophy -- and state championship -- remains powerful. There are more than a few Warriors who feel slighted by this week's middling ranking in the Top 10.
Punahou has been a powerhouse of late, losing in dramatic fashion to Kahuku in the 2005 state final.
Saint Louis, meanwhile, is using last year's heart-breaking finish as fuel for this year's crusade. Coach Delbert Tengan has always viewed preparation as a game-to-game, day-to-day process. Since the ILH schedules all teams for at least one meeting, he doesn't see a week off.
"I don't see it as Division I or Division II. Iolani has played Waianae tough. Damien with Kama Bailey is always dangerous. Pac-Five, if they just don't hurt themselves, they'll be in it. Not only Kamehameha and Punahou are a concern, but everyone else," Tengan said.
Here's a look at the three titans in Division I.
The Warriors were 1-0-1 in nonconference play.
Truman Chun, who had four 100-yard games last year, gives Kamehameha a seasoned, combo-type running back well suited to a power attack and a finesse game. Chun ran for 51 yards (4.6 yards per carry) against Castle and Pono Perez had 69 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown. Another back, Brandon Dumlao, ran for 60 yards against Campbell.
Michael Hoke returns at quarterback, bringing a season's worth of ILH experience. Eight different receivers caught passes in the Castle game. Against Campbell, Hoke was 11-for-17 with 176 yards and a touchdown.
Kanalu Demelo, Kupono Haitsuka, Jantz Bullock and Maika Mataele are among the chief targets, but Chun also had a 50-yard catch against Campbell.
Basketball player Pii Minns could also become a playmaker.
The reduction from 100 players to 70, as mandated by the athletic department, was not a pleasant housewarming present for Stant. The former University of Hawaii lineman also had limited power in selecting his own staff.
Stant has worked with the limitations, and his team is adjusting to the change in style and scheme. Former longtime coach Kanani Souza was old-school and directive. Stant is new school and inclusive, welcoming player input far more.
Though Souza brought in more passing formations recently, Stant is adding more aggressive sets and putting them to use more often. After 17 years of coaching in Japan, Stant could bring a higher level of precision to the Warrior offense.
The Warriors have kept their defensive philosophies largely intact, which is a plus since last year's unit -- starring Vaughn Meatoga, Joshua Manupuna, Andrew Godinet, Rykin Enos and Brandon Hardin -- was among the best in the state. For now, it may be the defense that carries the team while the offense catches up. The good news is that the Warriors have the football IQ to learn Stant's multitude of offensive requirements. It is a good time to be a Kamehameha wide receiver.
The first test comes tomorrow when the Warriors clash with Punahou.
The Buffanblu were 2-0 in nonconference action.
This could be the most explosive Punahou offense in school history. Even with the graduation of quarterback Brett Kan and Star-Bulletin offensive player of the year Miah Ostrowski, Punahou's shotgun passing game is lethal.
Cayman Shutter has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception. Ex-linebacker Kimo Makaula (6-3, 220) has been exceptionally accurate, including a 12-for-16 performance against a stellar Leilehua defense. There's also Pono Akina, last year's backup to Kan. He may return from a hand injury soon. Between Shutter and Makaula, offensive coordinator Darryl Kan has a choice between a big-play passer and an accurate gun who can run with power.
Running back Dalton Hilliard has added strength to his superior acceleration. Punahou still employs occasional I and offset-I sets, the better to accentuate Hilliard's shifty skills.
Robbie Toma has been one of the standouts of the receiver corps. His timing and chemistry with Shutter is especially in tune, particularly against tight man coverage.
Defensively, the Buffanblu have tremendous athleticism, which brings a smile to Ane's face. Two years ago, with a veteran unit, he was able to make adjustments on the fly. Last year's young defense had some growing pains. This fall, leaders like Manti Te'o and J.J. Autele bring size, speed and skill to the linebacker corps.
Te'o, at 6-2 and 230 pounds, may be the best ever at the position for the Buffanblu. He received a written scholarship offer from USC this week -- one of eight on the table. Though a foot injury ended his season last year, he is completely recovered. As a backup to Hilliard, Te'o broke off a 99-yard touchdown run against McKinley a month ago.
Sani Fuimaomo, a 250-pound sophomore, has been a plus to the defensive line, Ane said. Aaron Dudoit has done a good job at nose guard, while Passi Iafeta and Dane Okamura are anchors at inside linebacker. Safety Siu Tafuna has inherited the role played by former standout Jay Angotti.
A defensive coordinator has his hands full with Punahou. How do you prepare for two different quarterbacks? Ostrowski (82 receptions) is gone, but Punahou has Toma, Kameron Steinhoff (6-4), newcomer Keola Kane, Hilliard and more as targets. Offensively, this a truly balanced group with an outstanding offensive line.
The secondary may have some experience, but was inconsistent against McKinley and Leilehua. The defense allowed six touchdown passes in those two games, though Te'o sat out the Leilehua game.
Saint Louis Crusaders
Loaded? Yes. The Crusaders have talent plus experience at quarterback, receiver, running back, offensive line, defensive tackle, cornerback and safety. Where they aren't as experienced, they're learning quickly on the job, and Saint Louis is 3-0 as a result.
Micah Mamiya was 11-0 as a starter last season. Unfortunately, his collarbone injury in the state semifinal derailed the crusade, and Saint Louis lost in the title game against Kahuku. The all-state second-team selection has plenty of help. Veterans Keani Nishigaya and Austin Wakinekona rotate with Isaac Savella, Hoku Isaia and superb sophomore Vonn Feao.
"It's a good problem to have," Tengan said of his posse in the backfield.
Former backup quarterback Tamatoa DeMello has been a welcome addition to the receiver corps. Billy Stutzmann is a major deep threat, while Micah McClinton brings size (6-2) and athleticism. Lucas Gonsalves has been a playmaker at slotback.
The O-line lost just one starter, but that was anchor Ana Tuiasosopo. Brent Shimabukuro, Mana Greig and Tui Tuiasosopo are among the best in the league.
The graduation of all-state defensive ends Solomona Aigamaua and Scott Smith hasn't been a major issue. Tackles Ryan Eastman and Geordan Hanohano have drawn raves from opposing coaches, and Alex White's accelerated development has allowed Hanohano to line up on the edge at times.
The savvy secondary, led by hard-hitting Manoa Latu, has played well. Todd Nakano brings experience to the cornerback rotation.
From Kahuku to Kailua to Aiea, the Crusaders saw a mix of different looks. Aiea, with its run-and-shoot offense, was especially pertinent. "Aiea does a good job with the passing game, so it gave us a good test for our league," Tengan noted.
Stopping both pass-first and run-first (Kahuku, Kailua) teams is a Saint Louis trademark, and with outstanding newcomers to the special teams, Tengan is optimistic.
Kicker Warren Spencer is 11-for-12 on PATs. Trevor Mau's quick execution and hang time are giving the punting game a pleasant surprise.
The Crusaders value health, as Mamiya's injury last year showed. Defensive end Ikaika Cavaco-Amoy is still on the mend from a fractured ankle.
Also, by their ILH opener next week, Saint Louis will have three weeks of rust to shake off.