July 8, 2011

Moniz took long road to stardom

Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz has spent most of his football life trying to find coaches who believed in him.

On two occasions in three years, Hawaii coaches didn't think highly enough of Moniz to offer him a scholarship. When he went to junior college, his coach there first envisioned him as a backup.

His first coach, though, was an instant convert. Before Moniz could throw spirals for his junior varsity team, coach Nolan Tokuda was a believer.

"You could see had the intangibles," says Tokuda, who continued to coach Moniz on the varsity at Wahiawa (Hawaii) Leilehua. "He had the moxie, the 'it' factor, already."

Well, once the passes stopped wobbling.

He eventually did land at Hawaii, where last season he was the nation's only 5,000-yard passer and just one of nine quarterbacks in history to achieve the milestone. Only Texas Tech's Graham Harrell and Houston's Case Keenum have passed for 5,000 yards twice. If Moniz joins that class this fall, Hawaii has a good chance to win the WAC before it departs for the Mountain West in 2012.

Though Hawaii is on the move (and Boise State is out of the way), Moniz is settled for the first time in his college career. This offseason, he experienced something he hadn't experienced since high school: He ended one season as the starter and will begin the next holding the same stature.

Still, Bryant Moniz wouldn't be Bryant Moniz if he didn't feel the need to prove himself to coaches and teammates. He's meticulous in his preparation, and though his high school coach noted his intangibles, Moniz is shy and reserved. Hawaii offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Nick Rolovich, a former Warriors quarterback himself, wants that to change.

"If he could put the world on his shoulders, he would," Rolovich says. "I wanted him to bring everyone underneath and hold it up together."

For all of Moniz's gifts as a quarterback, his ability to lead will be tested this season. The Warriors must replace two 1,000-yard receivers, a 1,000-yard running back and at least four starters on the offensive line. The fifth starter on the line, tackle Austin Hansen, is dealing with an NCAA eligibility issue that will keep him sidelined for at least the early portion of the schedule.

The three departed skill-position players combined for 4,757 yards from scrimmage and 48 touchdowns. All three were drafted - running back Alex Green in the third round, receiver Greg Salas in the fourth and receiver Kealoha Pilares in the fifth.

Hawaii's new receiving corps includes Royce Pollard, the third-leading receiver last season; Darius Bright, a heralded junior college transfer; Jeremiah Ostrowski, the starting point guard on the basketball team; and sophomore Billy Ray Stutzman, who is from Honolulu.

"When I went into spring this year, I realized how much of a luxury it was to have the guys we had last year," Moniz says. "The guys we have this year are coming in with the right attitude, so there's not as much of a void from last year to this year."

Challenged by Rolovich to take the offense under his wing, Moniz took his receivers and backs to his hometown of Wahiawa for passing drills and just to hang out.

Wahiawa, which is on the island of Oahu, isn't quite Junction, Texas, but it's away from the hubbub of Honolulu and the beaches of Waikiki.

Don't pass me by
Ty Detmer and David Klingler were the first NCAA quarterbacks to break the 5,000-yard mark, in 1990. Since then, seven quarterbacks have reached that plateau a total of nine times. Bryant Moniz will try to add himself to the list for a second time.
B.J. Symons, Texas Tech20035,833528-5
Graham Harrell, Texas Tech20075,705489-4
Case Keenum, Houston20095,6714410-4
Colt Brennan, Hawaii20065,5595812-1
Ty Detmer, BYU19905,1884110-3
David Klingler, Houston19905,1405410-1
Graham Harrell, Texas Tech20085,1114511-2
Paul Smith, Tulsa20075,0654710-4
Bryant Moniz, Hawaii20105,0403910-4
Case Keenum, Houston20085,020448-5
Kliff Kingsbury, Teas Tech20025,017458-5
"He's bringing the team closer in his own style," says Rolovich, Hawaii's starting quarterback under June Jones in 2001. "One thing about this offense is each quarterback is going to do it their own way, with their own style. Body movement, and throws they like, and how they move people - it's unique to the individual. He really understood that if we're going to have another good season, he's got to mold this on his end, too."

Wahiawa is a fitting place for Moniz to put in the critical work for this season. And if there's a style Moniz may employ based on his time there, it's going to include a fair amount of misdirection.

Moniz mostly played baseball before high school, but Tokuda asked him to take snaps at quarterback for the JV team.

"The first two passes he threw looked like a punt, but he knew where the football needed to be," Tokuda says. "He didn't look at the rush; he could feel the rush. It wasn't pretty, but he hit the guy in stride."

Eventually, Tokuda insisted to the varsity coach that his JV freshman was better than the varsity's sophomore starter. Tokuda moved up to the varsity with Moniz the next year and the player proved that his coach's faith was not misguided. Moniz started as a sophomore and took Leilehua to the state title game.

Moniz played 13 quarters as a junior before suffering a broken collarbone; he still passed for 1,018 yards. Moniz was an all-state quarterback, as well as an all-state soccer player, as a senior.

But no one at Hawaii was interested. Jones was coach at the time and liked Moniz's athletic ability. He told Moniz he'd be welcomed on the team as a walk-on, but "welcomed" did not translate to a scholarship offer.

Moniz graduated from high school in 2007, meaning that had he gone to Hawaii, he would have been on campus for a year in 2008; that was Hawaii's first season without record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan. At the time, Hawaii had an heir apparent for Brennan in Tyler Graunke. Junior college transfers Greg Alexander and Brent Rausch joined Graunke and veteran reserve Inoke Funaki in backing up Graunke.

"That baffles me," Tokuda says. "Bryant was shoulders above the other guys. They questioned arm strength. They didn't want to take a chance on a guy that was 6 foot tall."

Hawaii's succession plan didn't work. Graunke twice was suspended and didn't return to the team. Funaki was overmatched and eventually moved to running back. Alexander emerged as the most capable starter as Hawaii went 7-7.

Once he was rebuffed by Hawaii, Moniz left the islands for Fresno (Calif.) City College, where a high school teammate had gone. Even there, he had to prove he could play. Coach Tony Caviglia already had Derek Shaw on his roster. Shaw was a four-star prospect out of high school who arrived at the junior college after transferring from Arizona State.

"We weren't sure exactly what we had when he got there," Caviglia says. "It took Bryant Moniz the first scrimmage to beat him out."

Caviglia noticed his new quarterback was meticulous in his preparation. He diagrammed all 90 of the team's pass plays on index cards and reviewed them in his spare time. (Once Moniz arrived at Hawaii, he became a little more high-tech. He would take DVDs of video from practice and create voiceovers of pre-snap reads and other observations.) In Fresno, Moniz started to approach his academics with the same zeal.

"I don't think school was too much on my priority list [in high school], but it was one of those things you have to do to play football," Moniz says.

A life-changing event can refocus some of those priorities, too. Moniz's high school girlfriend, Kiley Kealoha, went with him to Fresno and became pregnant with their daughter there. The studio apartment wasn't big enough to hold all three, so they returned to Wahiawa after his freshman year.

"He grew up here," Caviglia says. "He was on his own for his first time. He was in a different environment. It was a wake-up call for him. He realized he could do it on his own. ... He did it and he got through it. It gave him some confidence."

When he returned home, Moniz decided it was time to walk-on at Hawaii, now coached by Greg McMackin. When he arrived on campus in spring 2009, Moniz - who worked as a pizza delivery man at the time - was behind four scholarship quarterbacks.

That didn't matter. Moniz was 12-of-18 for 149 yards in the spring game, a better performance than any quarterback other than Alexander. Moniz overtook Alexander by the fourth game of the '09 season, and finished with 2,396 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.

"My walk-on year, I made it to spring camp and made it to the spring game and played three quarters," Moniz says. "I felt like I played pretty well and convinced myself I could play. I started to believe I belonged on the field."

After the impressive late-season performance, though, Moniz dealt with another problem. In 2010, he took a "personal leave" for most of spring practice. The reason for his absence has not been made public, other than it was not a suspension, an injury or legal trouble.

"To this day, I don't know what happened," Tokuda says. "His own coaches told him not to say anything. I told him if it's personal, nobody should ask you, even me."

Whatever the reason, the coaching staff was concerned that he might not return. After spring practice, Moniz returned to the program, and during a team meeting he apologized for a "mistake".

That tumult seems to be over now as Moniz works with his receivers in Wahiawa and on campus in Honolulu. When Moniz doesn't have a football commitment, he spends most of his time with Kiley and their 3-year-old daughter, Cali, named for the couple's time in California.

Cali is getting to know her way around the Hawaii football facility - she's there so often that Rolovich jokes she's starting to pay rent. And pity the poor guy who takes her on her first date.

"It's kind of like she has a whole bunch of uncles," Moniz says. "It will be good for when she grows up and has a boyfriend or something. She'll have a whole lot of security."

Moniz has some security, too, as his abilities no longer are in question. Now Rolovich wants to know if Moniz can be the leader of an inexperienced offense. In essence, the guy who needed three years to make a believer out of Hawaii has to start believing in his teammates.

"He's always been successful worrying about himself," Rolovich says. "He was always going to be prepared himself as far as football. He's going to do the extra work. For us to get better, it's going to take him bringing people along with him."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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