Within the hallowed halls of ‘Iolani School’s campus, the laughter of children and weight of backpacks filled with delightful textbooks are equally prominent.
Countless state-championship trophies line the inner sanctum, encased in glass. Where once there was a sun-drenched walkway, now a covered, shady and welcoming area for students to relax. Dillingham Pool is constantly busy. So are both gyms. Long gone are the tennis courts and metal bleachers of the football field, replaced by Kozuki stadium and the adjacent, pristine science building. The baseball field remains intact, and the softball team occupies what used to a bumpy, crab-grass P.E. field that once belonged to Ala Wai Elementary.
But ground zero of the complex remains the massive mural in the center of it all, and the face of Father Bray. The curator of “One Team” brotherhood — and now sisterhood — is more than just a long-ago icon. Decades after he guided a small athletic program that was — in that era — on the edges of a growing city, Bray never compromised his insistence about One Team.
He would’ve liked Tai-John Mizutani.
“His parents have done a great job of raising him,” Raiders football coach Wendell Look said. “They’re very appreciate of what ‘Iolani has done for their son. They’re nothing but supporters of ‘Iolani and Tai and our football program. They’ve raised a great young man.”
Through two seasons at the Division I level, and then D-II this fall, Mizutani has been efficient despite the lack of elite-level size and depth in the Raiders program. They get the most out of what they have through Dominic Ahuna’s weight-training program, and the immeasurable collective experience of one of the most seasoned coaching staffs in the state.
Mizutani currently ranks sixth in all-time passing yardage statewide with 6,997 yards. He passed former Punahou great Larry Tuileta over the weekend, and previously surpassed Taulia Tagovailoa of Kapolei (6,703 yards), Reece Foy of ‘Iolani (6,620) and Bobby George of Saint Louis (6,577).
He was the prep feature in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser that you can read here.
Here’s our Q&A with Mizutani:
Favorite Athlete: Baker Mayfield
> “I like his attitude toward the game. He’s not going to back down to anybody. He’s not scared of anybody. He’s not the the prototypical quarterback. He plays like an animal. Some people might think he’s cocky, but if you watch him through a game, he’s the best player on the field and he plays with that mentality. I’d tell him to keep doing what he’s doing. It’s been working for him the past few seasons. Some people don’t like the way he plays or his attitude, but he reminds me of Johnny Manziel and Tate Martell. He doesn’t really care if you don’t like him.”
Favorite Team: Philadelphia Eagles
> “When I was younger, I watched because that’s my dad (Ron)’s team. I was a Chargers fan at first because of their location, but as I watched the Eagles, I liked their jerseys and their logo. I like the way Carson Wentz plays. He was underrated coming out of high school, no Division I college offers and went to North Dakota State.”
Food At home: Korean Chicken
> “My mom (Michelle) makes good Korean fried chicken. I’m pretty sure she makes the sauce from scratch: shoyu base, brown sugar, ginger, all that stuff and she pours it on while the fried chicken is still hot.”
Food. Eating Out: Kikuya Japanese Restaurant.
> “It’s in Kaneohe, a hole in the wall, kind of. I get the salmon or the fried saba. My dad used to take me there all the time. Japanese is my favorite kind of food. I know it’s expensive, though.
Hobby Outside of sports: Spearfishing, writing, playing with dog (Luke)
> “It’s more like a summer-time thing with my friends. We have spear guns. We go to Kaneohe Bay where we have a secret spot and catch tako and reef fish.”
Movie: The Longest Yard
> “The new one with Adam Sandler. I kind of like it because it’s funny. They’re convicts playing the guards.”
TV Show: The Walking Dead
> “Now, it’s just people versus people, not people versus zombies. There’s more drama between people. I watched it from the beginning. If people have the time, I suggest watching it, but watch at your own risk because you’re going to get hooked real fast.”
Music Artist: Post Malone
> “My favorite song by him is newest song, ‘Rock Star’. He’s kind of kind of rappish, hip-hoppish, kind of R&B. Pre-game I’ll listen to him or Kolohe Kai. He’s the one who sang ‘Ehu Girl’.”
Teacher: Mrs. (Daryl) Kuioka. I have had a lot of incredible teachers but if I had to choose I would pick Mrs. Kuioka.
> “She retired last year. The last thing she told me was that she would remember me the most. I would go in a lot for extra help because I wasn’t very good at math. She would have snacks and kind of take of use like a grandma.”
> “I feel like if I could go back in time, I easily could’ve done better. Only now I realized I’m on the clock, a lot of these schools I’m looking at are really high caliber, but that’s true for a lot of people.”
> “I like writing in general, and I like interpreting writing about writing. Right now, I’m in a class called Literature of Sport, so we’re reading a lot of pieces about sports. One is ‘Playing for Keeps’, which is about Michael Jordan. It’s basically a life story by David Halberstam. We all have the book. It’s 630 pages, but I don’t mind when it’s this interesting.”
Place to Relax: In my room.
Motto/Scripture: John 3:16.
What your mom says that you cannot forget: My mom always tell me to always thank the lord for the talents and blessings He has given you because He can take them always just as fast as He gave them to you.
> “Ever since I was younger. My mom has had very strong faith. It was more like she asked me if I take for granted the opportunities I have, what the Lord gave me, then I might not have it any more.”
What your dad says that you cannot forget: My dad Ron always tells me to stay humble.
> With us, he’s proud of us as his kids. My mom cheers loud. No matter how crowded it is, I can hear her voice, especially at the stadium.
What your coaches say that you cannot forget: Coaches always tell me to never be satisfied with what you have done in the past year, week, or game.
The best thing about the 2016 season: It was my second year so the game kind of slowed down for me and it was a lot easier than my sophomore season.
> “I definitely had growing pains my sophomore season. At the beginning, mentally I wasn’t there in a couple of games. As the season went on, what really helped me was my teammates. Even though we were getting beat up kind of bad, they kept telling me how much they had confidence in me, and I can do that now with our younger guys that I’m a senior.”
The best thing about the 2017 season: Timing with my receivers improved over the summer and I feel like this year I’m spreading the ball out a lot more to all of my receivers.
> “I’m not surprised at all. Coming back from last year, almost all our receivers are back. Geno (Justin Genovia), (Rayden) Kaneshiro and (Jonah) Miyazawa. We knew our receiving corps would be pretty strong. We had a makeshift line in the summer, but as the preseason came our guys did a good job of adjusting. I’m definitely not surprised how explosive our offense has been.’
What is the key to your development physically?
> “During the offseason everything is pretty much all about getting stronger and getting more explosiveness for the season. This means a lot of training and strength and conditioning. Also throwing a lot with Coach Joel Lane and Coach Vince Passas. During season, it’s pretty much eat, school, football, sleep. It’s very busy during season but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
> “Since my freshman year, I’ve been working with Coach Joel. I worked out with Austin Jim On and those guys. Reece Foy has helped me the most with just settling me down. I know right now he’s in college, but he’ll call me and text me with what he would do as a player. I appreciate what he taught me with technique, but his words about what he does in a game, everything he’s been through, those helped me a lot. Even though I broke his (yardage) record, he’ll always be the best ever at ‘Iolani. There’s no doubt about it.”
When did you start attending ‘Iolani.
> “I’ve been at ‘Iolani since kindergarten.”
Who did you play for as a younger kid?
> “I played for the Kailua Mustangs (Pop Warner) and the Windward Tigers (military league). I played quarterback, receiver, kind of all over.”
What is something most people would be surprised about:
> ”I like to write. I tend to write more about sports because I plan on becoming a sports journalist.”
Bucket List: Work for ESPN and be a Sports Analyst.
> “If I could make it big time on ESPN, of course I would go there. I wouldn’t mind doing what my dad used to do.”
What is the history of your name? My dad wanted Tai any my mom wanted John because of her Grandpa’s name was John (Lindsey).
> “He passed away a couple of years before I was born (1999) on the same date (Dec. 23). My mom said that date used to be a sad day until I was born.”
> “Shoutouts To all of the Windward boys who I use to ball with who are all at other schools doing big things for their schools.”
Colleges: Western Oregon, Southern Oregon.
> “I’m talking to all the schools at Southern Utah. I love Utah. It’s just clean there. The LDS culture there. My family is LDS, so that’s why. Also Central Washington, too. I’m talking to the coach a little bit.”