Crusaders iffy on No. 1 status


POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2009

Once a champ, always a champ.

John Hao envisions championships for the Saint Louis Crusaders this fall. He can see it in his fertile mind, a conglomeration of efficient, precise run-and-shoot offensive attacks and defensive discipline, toughness and stinginess. He's been there as a quarterback, leading the program to a Prep Bowl crown 20 years ago.

Thing is, he prefers being an underdog, as does quarterback Jeremy Higgins. If Hao and Higgins were to write the script, the Saints would be overlooked by anyone and everyone. Of course, that's just about impossible when you're Saint Louis, a traditional powerhouse.

“;It has its ups and downs,”; Higgins said. “;If I had my choice I wouldn't want to be ranked. I'd rather come in under the radar, but it's a honor.”;

That's why, at No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Preseason Football Top 10, fans can see a light at the end of what has been a dark tunnel in recent years. Saint Louis has been so close to winning state titles, only to be derailed by injury, snuffed out by untimely mistakes. In the past three years, there may have been no team that has been as consistently good — or as consistently heartbroken.

» 2008: Higgins passes for nearly 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions, but the Saints are upset by 'Iolani and wind up second in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu — no state-tourney berth. Hao's first season as head coach ends at 8-2 with a No. 3 ranking in the final Top 10, stymied by perhaps the greatest Punahou team in history.





        With the high school football season starting tonight, the Star-Bulletin is counting down its preseason Top 10:

        10. Waianae

        9. 'Iolani

        8. Mililani

        7. Kapolei

        6. Kamehameha

        5. Farrington

        4. Punahou

        3. Kahuku

        2. Leilehua

        1. Saint Louis



» 2007: The Saints, in what turns out to be coach Delbert Tengan's final year, dominate Waianae in the state semis, but fall in the final to Leilehua 20-16 after leading 16-6 midway through the fourth quarter. Saint Louis' once-perfect season ends at 11-1, the second time in two seasons that it went unbeaten only to lose in the state title game.

» 2006: Starting quarterback Micah Mamiya goes down with a collarbone injury during a state semifinal win over Waianae, and the Saints lose to Kahuku 7-6 for the crown.

Hao, an assistant coach before taking the helm, has lived through the heartbreak. He knows his staff has a history of molding greatness at Kalaepohaku — Vinnie Passas is still one of the best quarterback coaches of this generation, if not the best.

But even in a wide-open field of contenders, with so many powerhouses filling voids, Saint Louis has the track record to back its top ranking.

2008: 8-2 (6-2 ILH).

On paper: The Crusaders have nine returning starters, including six on defense. Three defensive linemen are back, including Moses Samia, Hoku Isaia and KeAliiokekai Poomaihealani. That should give linebacker Stan Sua a wealth of play-making opportunities.

Marcus Umu and Casey Kamakani spearhead a talented secondary, giving Saint Louis a nucleus that should have an early edge on rivals Punahou and Kamehameha, which both lost their top passers to graduation.






        Tonight at Waianae

        Next Friday Kaimuki

        Aug. 29 at Leilehua

        Sept. 5 Pac-Five

        Sept. 18 Punahou

        Sept. 26 Word of Life

        Oct. 3 Kamehameha

        Oct. 9 'Iolani

        Oct. 17 Punahou

        Oct. 23 Damien

        Oct. 31 Kamehameha

2008 (8-2)
        » Saint Louis 48, Mililani 20
        » Saint Louis 24, Farrington 10
        » Saint Louis 40, Punahou 19
        » Saint Louis 28, Kamehameha 20
        » 'Iolani 35, Saint Louis 30
        » Saint Louis 52, Pac-Five 7
        » Saint Louis 49, Word of Life 0
        » Saint Louis 42, Damien 12
        » Saint Louis 55, Kamehameha 28
        » Punahou 41, Saint Louis 28


Offensively, Higgins has few peers statewide, and his grasp of Hao's virtually “;pure”; run-and-shoot is tremendous.

“;Jeremy's a coach on the field. He knows the schemes, the reads, the defensive coverages,”; Hao said. “;He just makes my job much easier. Vinnie's done a fine job.”;

The Saints are loaded at running back and slotback. Elijah McShane leads the backfield, while Sean Valente and Vonn Feao also return.

Jordan Fukumoto (31 receptions, 448 yards) is the veteran of the receiver corps. Shaun Ahlo also brings valuable experience.

The skinny: The entire offensive line graduated, including first-team All-State picks Mana Greig and Tytan Timoteo, plus third-teamer Kapua Sai.

“;They're untested, but from what we've seen, they're showing promise and good technique,”; Hao said.

Returnee Nick Andres leads the young group, which will get its first challenge tonight when the Crusaders travel to Waianae. The last time Saint Louis played at Raymond Torii Field, Waianae prevailed.

Regardless of tonight's result, time is on Saint Louis' side. The ILH regular season doesn't begin for a few more weeks.

X factor: There are several for the Saints, but none may be bigger than Higgins' chemistry with his line. As the O-line learns on the job, his skills as a leader will be necessary if Saint Louis is to win its first state title since 2002.

Higgins won't have to look far if he needs some guidance. In his senior year as a Crusader, Hao was surrounded by a young crew when he led them to a Prep Bowl title.