HONOLULU — Shortly before beginning his coaching career at SMU as a graduate assistant in 2012, Timmy Chang, Hawaii’s all-time leading passer in high school football, thinks back on the kid who is on the verge of breaking his record of 8,001 career passing yards.
As Chang was getting ready to leave Hawaii for his first coaching opportunity, he paid close attention to the younger quarterbacks who were on the island. One of those players was Tagovailoa.
“He threw the ball like he was one of the best quarterbacks in the state when he was in the eighth grade,” Chang, now the offensive coordinator at D3 Emory & Henry, told SEC Country. “There was no difference in his ball and the seniors in high school. He was actually better than a lot of the inexperienced quarterbacks in high school. He was doing it for such a long time at a high level. His ceiling was unbelievable and you just knew he was going to be special.”
Both Chang and Tagovailoa have a few things in common that have helped with the success they’ve had in football. Both of them played for Saint Louis High School, had the same quarterbacks coach in Vinny Passas and had legendary Hawaii high school football head coach Cal Lee at the helm for their respective careers.
Chang is familiar with Tagovailoa from his time in Honolulu, but they don’t talk much nowadays besides the occasional message over social media. The man who is second all-time in NCAA passing yards (Case Keenum is No. 1) from his playing days at the University of Hawaii believes Tagovailoa has a chance to achieve greatness when he gets to Alabama.
“He’s a special one,” Chang said. “Like I said, I saw him as an eighth grader and he was good then. He’s just gotten taller, stronger, faster and smarter. He’s going to be a good fit for Alabama. I know there’s a young quarterback there, but knowing him, he’s going there to compete. I think he’s a special one.
“He has all of the intangibles. He has thrown with a lot of great quarterbacks over the years. Marcus (Mariota) sometimes goes home and trains over there, and I know with those coaches, they’ve prepared him for the next level.”
Chang takes a lot of pride in being a former Saint Louis student, just like Tagovailoa. After practice on Thursday, several former Crusader alumni greeted the team before the state championship on Saturday against Kahuku. The alumni place stickers on the players’ shoulder pads signifying that the team is not only playing for themselves and their teammates but also those who came before them.
Tagovailoa said Chang’s support on his quest to break his record and to lead St. Louis to a state championship in his final high school game means more than what any stat sheet shows.
“With that support, it truly shows what kind of brotherhood we have over here,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, I want you to do this because this is what I did.’ It’s more so that these alumni are cheering us on because they want what’s best for the future of the kids. For me, I would want the same for other kids as well.”
That’s exactly the mindset Chang has when he thinks back to his successful high school football career. If anyone was going to become the state’s all-time leading passer, he would want the record to be broken by a Crusader.
Even though he graduated from Saint Louis 16 years ago, he still keeps up with the team and is going to be rooting for Tagovailoa to break his record and hopefully carry the Crusaders to a state championship.
“It really means the world to me,” Chang said of the possibility of Tagovailoa breaking the record. “I know more importantly to him, he’s had this game circled on his calendar for a long time. For him to do it in a game of this magnitude is special, but more importantly, the brotherhood wants a win.
“If I could see him, I would give him a big hug and thank him if he gets it done and wins. I really would. He’ll always be one of the brothers who wore the colors proudly.”