When Cal and Ron Lee returned to coach the Saint Louis football program in 2014, a dynasty was eventually restored.
The brothers guided ‘The Brotherhood’ to 14 consecutive Hawaii state titles from 1986 to 1999 before Cal Lee resigned as the head coach following the 2001 season. Ever since the HHSAA introduced the Open Division as its highest tier of competition in 2016, no team other than the Crusaders have staked their claim as the best in the state.
Ron Lee became the new head coach for the program in February after Cal Lee stepped down again. In a pre-pandemic world, perhaps the team would be gearing up for its fifth straight state title during this time of year. Although Hawaii is one of the few states that has not played high school sports during the current academic year, his teachings in the run-and-shoot offense remain prevalent in 2020.
Three of Ron Lee’s most recent starting quarterbacks will all get starting nods for their respective teams this weekend. First up is Jayden de Laura, who went 23-1 as a starting quarterback for Saint Louis from 2018 to 2019. On Saturday, he becomes the first true freshman to ever start a season opener for Washington State as the Cougars begin the Nick Rolovich era at Oregon State. Chevan Cordeiro, who went 10-0 for the men of Kalaepohaku in 2017, will be the man behind center for Hawaii in its home opener against New Mexico. Then on Sunday, Tua Tagovailoa, a three-year starter at Saint Louis from 2014-2016, makes his second career start for the Miami Dolphins on Sunday when they visit the Arizona Cardinals.
“I think it’s a credit to our program,” Ron Lee told KHON2. “This has been done in six years which is quite remarkable. We started with Tua for three years, Chev for one and Jayden for two, which makes up the six years. Thar’s a tremendous accomplishment by these three guys and it says a lot for Saint Louis’ program. I don’t think there’s too many high schools in the country that have three quarterbacks playing at another level so soon. We’re really, really proud of them.”
History is set to repeat itself 20 years later in the coming days. During the 2000 season, three Crusaders coached by Lee started major college football games: Darnell Arceneaux for Utah, Jason Gesser for Washington State and Timmy Chang for Hawaii. Although Cordeiro, Tagovailoa and Marcus Mariota all started games during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Lee did not coach Mariota during his time at Saint Louis. Mariota’s coach when Saint Louis won the state championship in 2010? Arceneaux.
When asked to compare the trio of Crusader quarterbacks starting this weekend against the crop that put the school on the map as a QB factory 20 years ago, Lee gives the edge to the 2020 trifecta, simply because one is already in the NFL. At the same time, Lee sees similarities in all six.
“Being back at Saint Louis for the past six years, I think as coaches we learned a lot more over that time. Those three guys, Tua, Chev and de Laura, they picked (the run-and-shoot offense) up really fast. I think they’re a lot more knowledgeable. I think we’ve added a lot more for these three guys. They’re very, very knowledgeable and have high football IQ. They’re very, very competitive like the other three guys. They all have that competitiveness,” Lee says. “I think all six guys would acknowledge they’ve always had tremendous support in the offensive line and the system. It really helped them and the receivers.
“It’s an offense where everyone has to be on the same page. Although they did extremely well, a lot of it came because of the system, school, the demands on those guys as players in the program, the hard work. They‘re all very, very similar — they work hard, they’re not afraid, they take risks as quarterbacks and sometimes you have to do that. They all have that quality. When things go bad, they move on to the next play. They all did that really well.”
Lee believes de Laura’s familiarity with the run-and-shoot offense is what ultimately won him the starting job at Washington State. When Lee was Hawaii’s offensive coordinator in 2008, Rolovich and current WSU offensive coordinator Brian Smith were assistants under him. Additionally, Wazzu co-offensive coordinator Craig Stutzmann played for the Lee brothers in the late 1990s and was a graduate assistant on the same 2008 UH staff.
“I think that had a lot to do with (de Laura) winning the starting spot,” Lee said. “He’s very familiar with the system, the reads. His background at Saint Louis, I know basically Stutz and Rolo and Brian, they run the same thing. They have the reads that are very familiar. They do more than we do at Saint Louis but I think Jayden fits in perfect. His running ability, his throwing, his accuracy, he’s got everything and that’s why he won out the start. But everything’s a lot faster. It’s gonna be a tough ballgame this week but I’m anxious to see Jayden too. I think Jayden will do well.”
Although Cordeiro spent the least amount of time as a starter at the prep level out of the three playing this weekend, Lee noted that he’s perhaps the most unflappable of the bunch.
“His leadership. Chev will come back. Chev’s a competitor. He’ll adjust,” Lee said of Cordeiro’s first loss as a UH starter last week. “The pressure that he got and still not as familiar as he needs to be with his receivers, but that will all get better but I’m anxious again to see how he comes back. He’s done it in high school and he’s done it his first year at the university when he came in games and won games, so he’ll come back. It’s nice to be home and I think he’ll do well.”
As for his most famous former pupil, Lee believes Tagovailoa will be up for the challenge if and when he’s asked to do more as the season progresses.
“Last week, he was protecting the lead but it’s gonna change this week and probably for the rest of the season. But I have a lot of confidence,” Lee said. “His history, he did it at Saint Louis, winning the job as a sophomore. He did it at Alabama and he’s gonna do it in the NFL. I’m anxious to see him play this week but I have all the confidence in the world that he’s gonna do real well.”
Kickoff between Washington State and Oregon State is set for 5:30 p.m. HST on Saturday on FS1, while the contest between Hawaii and New Mexico kicks off on Spectrum pay-per-view at 6 p.m.
On Sunday, the Dolphins and Cardinals will kick off at 11:25 a.m. HST on KGMB. While Lee will have no problem tuning in on Sunday, he says he’ll have to switch the Hawaii and WSU games back and forth, depending who’s on offense.
Lee says he’ll review the tape of all three games this weekend. Meanwhile, he also continues to monitor the progress of the three quarterbacks he currently has in senior Connor Apo, junior A.J. Bianco and sophomore Kekahi Graham. The next trio Lee has at his disposal will compete for the title of new starting quarterback at Saint Louis and the expectations that come with it.
“I’m not sure. I’ve heard so many different things,” Lee said with regard to the upcoming football season, which does not yet have an official start date. “I know our quarterbacks, they’ve been working out. We’re really starting all over again but these three quarterbacks are exceptional. They send me their workouts. I’ve been looking at their workouts. … It’s gonna be tough picking a starter. They all look so good during the offseason and I’m anxious. I hope we can start soon. We’re still in the process of waiting to see whether we’re gonna have football in January, February, March or who knows. So anxious to find out because I’m really looking forward to working with these quarterbacks that we have coming up.”