AJ Bianco, Nevada and the Marcus Mariota/Jeremiah Masoli trail

Saint Louis quarterback AJ Bianco wound up to attempt a pass against Punahou at Alexander Field. Saint Louis won, 41-23, in this Sept. 18, 2021 matchup. Photo by Craig T. Kojima / Star-Advertiser.

AJ Bianco envisioned playing lots of basketball this winter with hardly a care in the world about much else.

After all, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Saint Louis quarterback was committed to play football for Hawaii. Once basketball season ended, there would be ample time to get ready for a pivotal Warriors season in Manoa.

Time changes everything, though. Controversy and the resignation of coach Todd Graham at UH has the program adrift, rudderless without a head coach.

Within the past week, Bianco was invited to play in the upcoming Polynesian Bowl. Juggling bowl-week festivities with Saint Louis’ basketball schedule and a scholar-athlete’s academic load, he sat down with his parents on Tuesday night and came to a conclusion.

It was time to become part of the Wolfpack at Nevada.

“Signing day is in a couple of weeks and I have to make a decision soon. I can’t keep two teams waiting on me, so I thought it would be best if I made a decision as early as I can so both teams know what they’re getting,” Bianco said. “It felt right and I’m excited.”

The uncertain situation at Hawaii is a factor, Bianco said. Yet, he cited the positives of his ties to Nevada’s coaching staff rather than the challenges facing Hawaii’s program.

“I’ve been in touch with coach Nate Costa, the quarterbacks coach. I love his personality, his coaching style. He demands the best out of you. He’s worked with Justin Herbert (at Oregon). He was around with Marcus (Mariota) and (Jeremiah) Masoli when he was there,” Bianco said.

Mariota and Masoli were starting QBs at Saint Louis before becoming Ducks. Mariota went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 before becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Masoli preceded Mariota and went on to play at Oregon, then Ole Miss. He is a nine-year veteran of the CFL’s Hamilton Ti-Cats, playing under former UH coach June Jones in the 2017 and ’18 seasons.

Bianco first met Costa during an unofficial workout in Eugene last summer, when Costa was on staff with the Ducks.

“We’ve kept in touch since then. Once he got that Nevada spot, he’s been calling me and we’ve been building a relationship ever since,” he said.

When Bianco did not sign with Hawaii on the early national letter-of-intent signing day recently, speculation grew that there was another party involved.

“I never decommitted (then). I talked with coach (Jacob) Yoro a couple of times. I let him know today I was committing to Nevada,” Bianco said. “We’ve been pretty close. He’s been recruiting me for awhile. He’s been helpful throughout the process.”

Bianco passed for 2,660 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first season as a starter, sparking Saint Louis to the ILH Open Division championship. He completed 68 percent of his passes (186 for 273) with just eight interceptions in 10 games. Bianco also transformed into a playmaker on keepers and scrambles out of the pocket over the course of the 2021 season. He finished the year with 490 rushing yards and 11 TDs on the ground.

It was a busy 24-hour period since Tuesday. Bianco started and got his first playing time of the season with the Crusaders basketball team. No. 1 Saint Louis eked out a 47-39 win over No. 2 ‘Iolani. Then the big talk with mom and dad.

After a good night’s rest, Bianco woke up on Wednesday feeling good about his decision. After posting a tweet about his commitment to Nevada, he spent the afternoon with some teammates in a photo session, then headed to the doctor’s office for an appointment. He missed dinner at Dave and Buster’s with the Polynesian Bowl players, but was there for their haka practice.

Questions are flying everywhere in Bianco’s universe tonight.

“I’m fine with it. Everybody’s doing their job,” he said.

The pistol-based offense that was a signature of Nevada football is gone as a new coaching staff arrives.

“They’ve got a lot of guys from Oregon and the OC (Derek Sage) is from UCLA. It’s like a mix between pro style and spread,” Bianco said.

Herbert is flourishing with the Los Angeles Chargers now, but Bianco is a devout LA Rams fan and rarely watches the Chargers. The similarities between Herbert and Bianco aren’t too different.

“I can throw it, I’d say around 60 (yards). I think Herbert can throw it 80, to be honest,” Bianco said.

During hoops season, he plans to keep working out on days off with Leon Cordeiro, father of former Saint Louis all-state quarterback Chevan Cordeiro — who recently transferred from Hawaii to San Jose State.

With looming opportunities at Hawaii and a pending transition to a new coaching staff, it just wasn’t the right time or fit for Bianco. But what if Hawaii hires a new head coach before NLI signing day? What if the new coach requests a meeting with Bianco?

What if that new coach was a familiar face to UH alums and fans? The questions are never-ending. The next two weeks have layers of uncertainty for Hawaii fans, but Bianco has weighed all the possibilities.

Hawaii’s 2022 campaign just got a lot tougher.


  1. nalohitman January 19, 2022 9:53 pm

    Happy for AJ and his Ohana. Crusader strong!!

  2. ??? January 20, 2022 8:59 am

    UH better hire June Jones ASAP if they want this kid back before signing day!

  3. Falcon Future January 20, 2022 9:29 am

    If Timmy Chang gets the UH job or even if it’s June Jones getting the job and Timmy becomes QB coach, do you think AJ might change his mind? There’s a strong Crusader Brotherhood connection right there.

  4. 88 January 21, 2022 11:15 am

    June Jones had his chance already. Give Timmy Chang the opportunity.

  5. Pakelika January 23, 2022 2:00 pm

    To 88: Timothy Chang is the Hawaii coach, speaking from the perspective of a Kahuku community member and rabid football fan, do you think that he will be successful with recruiting Kahuku High players, despite his being a member of the Crusader Brotherhood?

  6. Justine Smith January 23, 2022 10:58 pm

    It’s a colder weather in Nevada. So he’ll have to adjust very quickly to the colder weather in Nevada. Or else, something else will come up. Physical is the most important thing right now. And adjust to the weather is a big thing.

  7. Justine Smith January 23, 2022 11:02 pm

    Congratulations to Timmy Chang on getting selected as the UH Warriors new head football coach. I remember in 2004 when you were playing. I was one of the helpers at Aloha Stadium selling football items to fans at the stadium. Just only at the games, working. I think things will change. No more Aloha Stadium any more.

  8. 88 January 24, 2022 11:40 am

    Keeping our top local talent home is nearly impossible now that student athletes are getting paid. I believe that’s why a bunch of UH kids are transferring out. Why stay home at UH and get next to nothing when you can go to a D1 school on the mainland and get $$$ thousands every month to play. But good luck to Coach Chang. June Jones had his time already.

  9. ??? January 25, 2022 6:54 pm

    Timmy might win some games as did Graham & Rolo, but no one will take UH to its max potential with wins, fans, recruiting, positive business decisions & NFL draft picks. UH messed up big time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiprepworld@staradvertiser.com.