It was seven years ago, at one of Chad Owens‘ all-star football camps, when Timmy Chang first met a young kid with big aspirations.
“This little kid came up to me and said, ‘Hey Timmy, you know I’m going to break your record one day,'” Chang recalled Thursday while sitting in traffic in Charlotte, N.C. “At the time, I had just gotten done playing (football) and didn’t really know what the record was or anything, but this kid knew his stuff.”
Seven years later, that kid will take the field for his final high school football game at Aloha Stadium when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leads Saint Louis against Kahuku in the Open Division state final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships.
Chang, the state’s single-season and career passing record holder, finished his three-year high school career in the inaugural Division I state football championship game in 1999, when he threw three touchdowns passes in a 19-0 shutout of Kahuku.
Chang’s senior season (3,985 yards, 64 touchdowns) stands alone as the best ever for a quarterback. Kapolei sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa (3,919 yards, 42 touchdowns) came closer than anyone else to breaking that mark this season, but fell just short.
Chang’s career marks (8,001 yards, 113 touchdowns) have also held for 17 years, but the passing record could fall Saturday night. Tua Tagovailoa enters the game against Kahuku with 7,915 passing yards and 83 touchdowns while playing 11 fewer games than Chang. He needs 87 passing yards against the top defense in the state to become the new all-time leader, making good on those remarks from seven years ago.
“When Tua was younger, I played with his uncle, Derek Faavi, at Hawaii where he was my center and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing his father (Galu Tagovailoa) growing up,” said Chang, who is currently the offensive coordinator at Emory & Henry College in Virginia. “I’ve always kept my eye on him and we knew from the eighth grade he was going to be special.
“He used to throw with a QB of mine at Mililani, Jarin Morikawa, and if you looked at the ball traveling through the air, you really couldn’t tell the difference. Jarin was one of the top one or two quarterbacks in the state as a senior and Tua was in the eighth grade, yet you really couldn’t tell the difference. That was how sharp and good he was at a young age.”
Chang won both Prep Bowls and the state title game he started in. Tagovailoa has led Saint Louis to two ILH championships and a state final appearance. All that’s left for Tagovailoa to stand among the greats in Hawaii high school football history is the state title that comes with a win on Saturday.
He could do it while setting the record in the process.
Tagovailoa broke into a wide grin after practice on Thursday when reminded of the moment in time when he informed the state record holder that his marks were on borrowed time.
“It’s amazing to have that type of support from someone who holds the state record and be supportive of someone who is hopefully going to break it,” Tagovailoa said. “That just shows what kind of brotherhood this school brings. It’s like that for everyone.”
That brotherhood is what Chang remembers the most about all of the wins, touchdowns and passing yards he had from 1997 to ’99 before going on to set records in college at Hawaii.
“It’s a big family-oriented brotherhood at Saint Louis that’s hard to explain unless you’re a part of it,” Chang said. “It’s what makes Saint Louis so special. No matter if you’re a ’55 grad or a ’65, ’75, 2000 or 2010 graduate, the brotherhood you’re a part of knowing you went to Saint Louis is something that lasts forever.”
Chang went on to throw for more than 17,000 yards and start 50 games at Hawaii, where he either won or shared Hawaii Bowl MVP honors twice and was a four-time All-Western Athletic Conference selection. He played in NFL preseason games with the Detroit Lions and was also a QB in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League before retiring to begin his coaching career.
Looking back on it, he said none of it compared to his time playing quarterback at Saint Louis.
“Those were the best days of my life,” Chang said. “I will never get them back but they will always be with me. I was just one of the quarterbacks to be a part of it (at Saint Louis). I was fortunate and lucky to play with a lot of good players and I was coached by some of the greatest coaches in football period.”
Seven years ago, it was kids like Tua that were looking up to guys like Chang. Now, as Tagovailoa blazes his own path that includes a trip to Alabama to begin his college career in January, Tua is the one serving as a role model for the next generation of high school football players.
“It’s amazing. I believe anyone in general, to be looked up to is amazing because you have power to change their lives,” Tagovailoa said. “You have power to do things — some kids look at the way you dress and probably want to do that — they see the way you talk. You have a lot of power to these kids and I think that’s amazing.”
——— The Star-Advertiser’s Christian Shimabuku contributed to this story.