Scrub away the memories, good and bad, of so many transitions and changes, and it all boiled down to the present moment.
In the biggest game of his life, at that point, Jaymason Lee led the huddle as the Castle Knights faced a monumental task against Farrington. Any third-down play against one of the state’s top defensive units is difficult, but third and 20?
Come on. No way.
Way. The visiting Governors had everybody on the trips side blanketed. On the other side of the field, Josh Kong, his former Kahaluu Broncos (Pop Warner) teammate had an opportunity.
“Josh was the backside receiver. He ran his route hard and I went through my progression. He was going full speed. I felt the defensive end next to me,” Lee recalled. “I didn’t care if I got hit.”
Fortunately, a running back picked up the pass rusher in the nick of time.
“Once Josh caught it, he got nailed, but he has great hands and good concentration,” Lee added.
It was, for Lee, the most memorable play in a 29-28 comeback win over then-No. 2 Farrington. It was also the best example of the senior’s voyage through the world of football; when the going gets tough, he makes the play and does it with full conviction.
That wasn’t always the case, though. He grew up playing football for the mighty Kaneohe Knights before switching to the aforementioned Kahaluu Broncos as a ninth grader. Though the Knights ran a wide-open offense, but he went to Kahaluu, a team that had won a state title and earned a trip to Florida. It was there where he first played with Kong.
Beyond switching to a more conservative offense — more handing off than throwing spirals — Lee also passed up a chance to play intermediate or JV football at his school, Kamehameha.
When his sophomore season arrived, he was behind the learning curve. He rotated at quarterback with Christian Akana, now the varsity team’s starter. There was a massive playbook to memorize. It didn’t take long for Lee to visualize the future; he was on the bottom of the depth chart moving forward.
“Since I was a little kid, we went to Castle games. I used to dream of wearing the gold helmets,” he said. “I tried my hardest (at Kamehameha). It was a hard decision to make. I was getting a pretty good education.”
That spring, in 2008, was a turning point.
“I prayed over it for two weeks straight. I waited for a sign or a signal. My parents said it’s up to me. I’ll be the one to live with my decision. A lot of my friends from Kamehameha told me not to go, but I had to be selfish about my future. Everybody should know it was my decision.”
His best buddy, Kamehameha student Justice Kim-Hew Len, knew the burden was great for Lee.
“He asked me to pray for him. As a friend, I wanted to graduate with him. To see my best friend leave was hard, but I’m happy for him,” Kim-Hew Len said.
Though the two had a few immature moments as ninth graders, they both grew quickly, Kim-Hew Len said.
“Jaymason was big, like an offensive lineman, but after freshman year, he started to come down. The exercise, the nutrition. I always saw him taking vitamins,” he said of Lee, now 6 feet and 185 pounds.
Lee, who has a 3.0 grade-point average, benefited from the transition. He buckled down and left childish habits behind. His new school felt like his destiny.
“It was very welcoming. Shaydon (Kehano) was the first one to come up to me. Coach (Nelson) Maeda said he’d give me a fair shot,” Lee said. “No, I don’t regret anything. I’m glad I transferred to Castle.”
In his first season, Lee passed for 2,293 yards and 29 touchdowns. He completed 57 percent of his passes and had only 11 picks in 313 attempts.
“He’s a student of the game, very competitive and athletic,” Maeda said. “He won the starting job and slowly learned our system. We made a concerted effort with him, but we have a small playbook. It’s about adjustments and reads.”
With All-State receiver Kehano gone, Lee has become a leader, voted co-captain by his teammates. His studying and absorption of Castle’s run-and-shoot offense have paid off. In four games, he’s passed for 946 yards, including 372 yards and two touchdown strikes in the win over Farrington.
For a guy who hates to sit on the bench, Lee knows how to make the most of his free time. In the offseason, he spent Sundays training with quarterback guru Vinnie Passas.
“He’s very welcoming. In the drills, he tells the quarterbacks and receivers everything he knows,” Lee said of Passas, a longtime quarterbacks coach at Saint Louis. “He stops and corrects everybody with key points.”
Now, Lee spends part of his Sundays, from noon to 3 p.m., at Kaneohe public library. He never calls his assignments “homework.” In Lee’s vocabulary, work is work.
“There’s some peace and quiet so I can do my work. Plus, there’s free air-conditioning,” said Lee, who gets a lot of work done during the school week in whatever quiet space he can find on campus. That’s usually an empty classroom.
It’s a discipline that comes from a childhood of playing sports, but it’s also in the lifeblood of Maeda’s program.
“Coach is always there to get work done. He’s always telling everybody about the (team) T-shirts we’re assigned to wear every day,” Lee said. “If one person’s not wearing it, we have to do bear crawls. That’s what’s special about our team. We’re disciplined as a team, not as individuals.”
Maeda sees that mastery in his quarterback.
“It’s about believing what you see and not trying to force things. Just take what they give you,” he said. “We’ve had some very good quarterbacks, but Jaymason has the potential to be the best one of all if he can free himself of distractions and stay focused.”
The mindset is there. Lee has long been a student. One day, he might make a life as a teacher, too.
“For younger kids, I’d say keep working. When the other quarterbacks are at the beach or movies, you gotta be the one that’s still training.”
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser