(Here’s the longer/extended/expanded version of this morning’s feature story on Mililani quarterback Jarin Morikawa.)
The DNA of four-wide, shotgun formations is not easily decoded.
From teacher to disciple, one generation down to the next, the eureka moment for any pupil is discovered not in a flash, but in this unusual, but exquisite way. The student must be willing to teach, as well.
From Mouse Davis to Ron Lee. From Ron Lee to brother Cal Lee to Vinnie Passas. To Darnell Arceneaux and Tim Chang.
From Mouse to June Jones, from JJ to Nick Rolovich.
Extract the knowledge and condense it into the form of a gem, hardened and crystalized over time. This is what Mililani’s Jarin Morikawa possesses. His senior season reads like this: 3,111 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, 265-for-452. That’s a passer rating of 134.94 and a yards-per-attempt of 6.9.
On the surface, the averages and rating numbers aren’t spectacular, but this is where Morikawa, the disciple, was more than willing to make the sacrifice. Instead of launching bombs often, which he did last year as a junior, coach Rod York implored his offensive leader to use the short pass as a de facto running game. That took trust on the part of York, who assumed offensive coordinator duties this fall.
“That’s where I get into trouble at times, forcing the ball down the field, but as a senior quarterback you’ve got to have more responsibility and play it safe,” said Morikawa, who has a 3.8 grade-point average.
“It’s a credit to our coaches. We put in a lot of hard work in the offseason. Repetitions, getting on the same page, rep after rep and getting more confident in it, and a lot of film study,” he said. “Coach (York) knows a lot about coverages and tendencies.”
It also took Morikawa’s grasp of the big picture. Without a powerful running back to keep defenses honest — there wasn’t a single weak defensive unit in the division — he had to chip away and do it while newbie starting receivers were still mastering the art of reading coverages, let alone make the proper route adjustment.
This isn’t to say Morikawa is strictly a quick-release artist this campaign season. His yards-per-attempt hovered at 5 early in the year. With the development of deep threats Erren Jean-Pierre and Ekolu Ramos, that number rose drastically during a five-game stretch leading to the OIA Red title game.
“Ekolu will go up and fight for the ball against anybody. He has hops. He worked really hard in the offseason,” Morikawa said. “I love the deep ball. Just put it up in front for Erren and let him go make a play.”
During that run, Morikawa amassed 1,849 yards and 19 touchdown strikes during that span with only two picks. He connected 131 times in 202 attempts (65 percent) in one of the hottest runs in recent memory. Five Trojans have at least 27 receptions, and there’s even defensive lineman/tight end Dakota Turner, a reliable target in the red zone.
“He’s like a Rob Gronkowski,” Morikawa said, comparing the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Turner to the New England Patriots tight end. “You get him the ball, he can run some guys over, moves really well for his size. He has great hands.”
York lets Morikawa call the plays out of empty-backfield, five-receiver sets.
“He’s learned so much from Darnell, Timmy, (former offensive coordinator) Bobby George,” said York. “The No. 1 stat for any quarterback is wins.”
That’s why, on Sunday — two days after a lopsided loss to No. 1 Kahuku in the OIA Red title game — Morikawa is a wee bit miffed about the loss. The taste of victory — a six-game win streak came to an end — has its allure. Mililani begins play in the state tournament on Friday with a game at War Memorial Stadium on Maui against MIL champion Baldwin.
“The loss (to Kahuku) was very disappointing to us. We should’ve put up a better fight. Turnovers killed us all night, but we just got to learn from that and move on,” said Morikawa, a 6-foot. 180-pound senior. “We’ve got to give Kahuku credit. They were punching the ball out, so we’ve got to do better at securing the ball.
“Our focus has to be on Baldwin right now.”
Farrington coach Randall Okimoto was impressed by the Trojan slinger after Mililani aired the ball out in a 42-21 OIA Red semifinal win over the Governors. His defense took its chances much of the time by taking fewer risks with a heavy pass rush. Morikawa took a couple of sacks, but was golden through much of that OIA Red semifinal: 22-for-35, 357 yards, five touchdowns with two picks.
“Looking back, yeah, I think we could’ve put more pressure on him,” Okimoto said.
A week later, Farrington had six sacks in a win over Leilehua with a state berth at stake.
“We didn’t want the same thing to happen again,” he said.
Morikawa has already given Illinois State, an FCS school, an oral commitment to play football. But two other schools, including Weber State, have made offers, too. Former UH slotback Craig Stutzmann is an assistant coach there.
Morikawa was a youth football passing fiend one chapter following Kenan Sadanaga with the Pop Warner Mililani Trojans team. By the time Sadanaga arrived at Leilehua, he was the heir apparent to a certain “Man-Child”, Andrew Manley, who, according to legend, moved up to the varsity from the JV team after a slew of injuries. Then he led a 3-3 regular-season team to a state championship.
Sadanaga followed by sparking the Mules to state title contention each of his seasons as a starter. As a senior, he was voted All-State offensive player of the year honors.
Morikawa, meanwhile, went to his neighborhood school at Mililani and lit up an already productive passing attack. He followed his All-State second-team selection last year — second only to Sadanaga — by patiently nurturing a group of mostly new starting receivers early this season. With time came learning as York — who drew as much information from former offensive coordinator Chang as possible — and Morikawa let repetition build confidence in the pass catchers.
The result? A team without mammoth linemen or a dominant, full-time running back took first in the rough OIA Red West and second in the league. Four wide. Five wide. Game after game. Play after play. This is what happens when you put something so pure into the reach of a defensive lifer — York — and the hands of a classically trained performer.
Since he was in seventh grade, Morikawa and his dad, Jon, a former McKinley signal-caller, made the trek from Central Oahu to town on Sundays to train with Passas, the aptly named passing guru. Passas, the quarterbacks coach at Saint Louis, has provided the weekly clinic for decades, keeping it open to all young hopefuls near and far.
“Almost everything I know, a lot of credit goes to him. He’s been right there with me, pushing me, encouraging me. Make sure you put his name in there,” Morikawa said, making his only request to a reporter.
That’s because Passas is the kind of teacher who is practically a real-life Yoda. He throws the ball to Jarin. Jarin throws it back. Coach explains the flaw in the middle-schooler’s release. The pupil listens and throws the ball back. Throw by throw, rep by rep, Morikawa got rid of the three-quarter angle in his delivery — the one he taught himself after watching Colt Brennan hurl Hawaii to a 12-0 regular season oh, not so many years ago.
“All the great quarterbacks that he’s worked with, he teaches footwork, the release,” Morikawa said of Passas. “He used to record (video of) me on his iPhone to show me where my arm was. I looked up to all the quarterbacks who came, Andrew Manley, Marcus Mariota. I’d look up to them and try to be like them.”
He saw his share of record-setting passers play for UH, going to every home game with his dad. By the time he was in high school, he had an ongoing conversation with some of those same stars.
“Growing up, all I knew was going to every UH game, watching Rolovich, Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan. I got to work with Timmy this year. I talk to Rolovich sometimes,” Morikawa said.
Chang, who was going to be the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, is now at SMU, coaching under June Jones.
“With Timmy, he’s taught me everything from coverages to workout programs, all these tips you’d never learn from other people, all the experiences he’s been through,” Morikawa said. “He set all kinds of records for touchdowns, even for interceptions. If I throw a pick, he tells me, just move on, you have to forget about it, have a short-term memory.”
During Mililani’s stunning win over Farrington, Brennan, who recently started volunteering as a coach at Kahuku, couldn’t help but notice the young protégé’s talent. A week later — last Friday — Brennan approached Morikawa and offered encouragement after Kahuku overwhelmed Mililani.
“It’s amazing,” Morikawa said.