Three years ago, the Kapolei Hurricanes had the best season in school history.
The only time Kapolei won 10 games in the same year was punctuated by its only victory ever in the state football tournament, a 33-21 win over ILH runner-up Punahou in the first round of the six-team Open Division state tournament.
They did it with a sophomore quarterback and a former head coach in the NFL and college as offensive coordinator.
A lot has changed since June Jones mentored Taulia Tagovailoa during that special 2016 year. The former University of Hawaii head coach went to Canada to coach in the CFL, while Tagovailoa followed his brother, Tua, East to Alabama.
More than two years later, the two reunited at Polynesian Bowl practice on Tuesday at Aloha Stadium. Jones is serving as offensive coordinator of Team Mauka with Tagovailoa one of the three quarterbacks on the team.
“That’s my boy,” Tagovailoa said Tuesday. He’s the one calling plays. We’re excited.”
Tagovailoa should be excited. In the one year he played under Jones at Kapolei, he threw for 3,919 yards and 42 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. Only Timmy Chang, who played for Jones at the University of Hawaii, has thrown for more yards in a single season in state history.
“It’s always good to see coach Jones. I talk to him a lot,” Tagovailoa said. “He’s been a great mentor to me and my family. I learned a lot and he’s helped me a lot going to Alabama and playing football out there and throughout my whole career.”
A week after that victory over Punahou, Kapolei’s season ended in a state semifinal loss to Kahuku. Unknown to most people at the time, that would end up being Tagovailoa’s last high school game in Hawaii.
Jones took an administrative job at Saint Louis and Tagovailoa, who was on pace to shatter every passing record in Hawaii high school history, relocated to Alabama, where Tua was enrolling as a freshman quarterback with the Crimson Tide.
In two years at Thompson H.S. in Alabaster, Ala., Tagovailoa threw for 7,504 yards and 71 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. If you combined his time in Alabama with what he did in Hawaii, Tagovailoa finished his prep career with 14,207 yards and 135 passing TDs.
“It’s been crazy for sure with moving and stuff like that,” Tagovailoa said. “But I’ve been blessed. Starting (as a freshman) early in Hawaii and knowing how big football is here and then moving to Alabama making good friends and relationships and all that has been one of the most important parts of moving there.
“Ending my football career over here at Aloha Stadium where it’s all started is going to be really special.”
There are 13 players on each team who played prep football in Hawaii in the fall. There are also players in the game who left Hawaii during high school, including Tagovailoa, Bishop Gorman defensive end Treven Ma’ae and Carlsbad (Calif.) athlete Asa Turner.
Their reasons for leaving are all different, but they all feel the same way about returning home.
“Getting to come back and playing against some of the players you played with growing up your whole life, stuff like that I’m going to remember forever,” Tagovailoa said. “My biggest thing is just seeing my family. Seeing the people that couldn’t make it to the mainland to see me play. That’s the only reason I came back to Hawaii. To see my family. My biggest thing is seeing my family.”
Added Ma’ae: “It’s good to see some familiar faces, people I grew up with. Obviously, playing my last high school game here means a lot.”
For Polynesian Bowl team rosters, click here.