R&S Lab: Kapolei 2015-16 vs. Moanalua 2018

Under the tutelage of former Hawaii football coach June Jones, Kapolei quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was on a record pace for passing yards before transferring to Alabama. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.


This isn’t a post about June Jones.

It isn’t about Taulia Tagovailoa.

OK, maybe this is, but it’s also about a one-dimensional offense. A quarterback who is probably a world-class dart champion. And his catchers of spirals. His many catchers of spiraling pigskins.

But first, June Jones. In 2016, the former head coach at Hawaii, a guru of the run-and-shoot offense who once could have easily won the election to become governor of Hawaii (my opinion) — became the offensive coordinator at Kapolei High School. Scribing those words together, it almost feels like it never happened.

I still don’t know why I never interviewed him. Me, the guy who sat down with guru Ron Lee and filmed him sketching the Mouse Davis route tree on a white board at another high school, Kalani. (Wait, is this some kind of parallel life experience here for former UH coaches?) I’m also the guy who wishes I’d corralled Davis, Jones, Colt Brennan and Nick Rolovich together for a roundtable chat while they were all on Oahu back in August. (Ron Lee, too.)

Moving on. So Jones is the OC at Kapolei, basically a mentor to the prodigy, Taulia. Jones has taken everything he learned from Davis — he transferred from Hawaii to Portland State to play in the four-wide system — and taken it to another sphere. But let’s rewind a wee bit more to the ’15 season. Taulia is a freshman. His older brother, potential future Heisman Trophy winner Tua Tagovailoa, is all the rage at Saint Louis. A legend in the making. Taulia? He’s the smaller, younger gunslinger. Like Tua, Taulia emerged out of the Ewa Beach Sabers JPS program with quite a rep. But instantly comparing him to his brother — Tua racked up 33 TD passes with just three interceptions as a sophomore — would be unfair, right?

Well, Tua actually never played as a freshman at Saint Louis. Back then, the ILH had a rule about prohibiting freshmen from playing varsity football. They were permitting student-athletes to play any other sport as ninth graders, but not varsity football. Which is almost as interesting as the reason I was once told by the league several years ago about why their football games weren’t televised.

“We don’t want to exploit our student-athletes.”


Back to Taulia. His freshman season (2015) began as a battle at QB with a talented athlete, Ezra Savea, who was athletic enough to start at any skill position. (Again, my opinion.) In game one against Kaiser, Savea passed for 196 yards and Taulia went for 160 in a 49-28 win over the Cougars. Impressive.

In game two, Savea passed for 127 yards and Taulia didn’t register any stats in a 27-7 home loss to Kahuku.

From there, Taulia started every game. After 198 passing yards in a 20-6 loss at Kailua, his yardage count went like this.

@ Mililani, L 67-21 — 394 yards
Moanalua, W 33-21 — 448 yards
Campbell, W 16-7 — 265 yards
Farrington, W 23-6 — 199 yards
Aiea, W 16-6 — 165 yards
Castle, W 41-0 — 534 yards
@ Kahuku, L 56-10 — 356 yards

Freshman. And his dad, former Ewa Beach Sabers coach Galu Tagovailoa, was the OC. There was a game during that ’15 or maybe the ’16 season, that broke my scorebook. Taulia threw so many passes that I ran out of space on the two pages that are always more than enough to contain a passer’s record of statistics. There are 36 “boxes” in my book on each page. I don’t know where that stat book is now, but if I find it, I’ll post a pic.

Sophomore season, the numbers are more consistent. He delivers at least 254 passing yards in every game, but Taulia doesn’t crack the 400-yard mark more than once, against Castle. But the tutelage of Jones, the experience he gained as a freshman starter, and his natural intelligence created a game-by-game line for the ’16 season that no other sophomore, I believe, has ever achieved. Well, aside from Tua.

All of this leads me to, no, not Taulia moving to Alabama with his family and unleashing Mouse Davis-to-the-nth-degree holiness on poor defensive backs down south, but what I saw last week. At Aloha Stadium.

Moanalua’s offense isn’t as potent as the Taulia-era Kapolei Hurricanes. Na Menehune have barely any semblance of a ground attack. Every defense KNOWS that Nick Au will throw the ball — Moanalua had tossed the pigskin 68 percent of the time coming into the contest — and still hasn’t stopped him. Au was 32-for-42 against Waipahu, 353 yards, four TDs, no picks.

Au threw the ball exactly 21 times in the first half (15 completions, 217 yards) and 21 more times after the break (17 completions, 136 yards).

Moanalua quarterback Nick Au is averaging three passing TDs a game on 68-percent passing this season. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

What wowed me about Moanalua’s offense, which also had 17 rushes for minus-41 yards in case anyone thinks Coach Savaii Eselu throws the ball because of anything but necessity, is Au’s mastery. He’s a second-year starter with no real help from the ground game, but he has a Plan B and Plan C, probably a Plan D anytime his first look isn’t available.

He began the game with deep throws down the middle to Ezra Grace, the deep threat, and possession guy Rudy Kealohi. Both went for TDs of 63 and 45 yards. Then it was a 12-yard completion to Javon Monico. Then, of course, Au force feeds Grace and Kealohi because he can’t stand short passes. NO.

Not at all. Au is the ultimate chess player. He went deep early only because Waipahu allowed it. But now, he is back in dart-champ mode. Three completions in a row to CJ Paleafei. Three yards. Six yards. Nine yards. He is 6-for-6. For the rest of the half, it’s short and intermediate looks. Grace has eight targets by halftime. Kealohi, the route master inside 10 yards according to Eselu, has five targets by the break. There’s one stretch in the second quarter when Au flings it to Kealohi three times in a row for two completions, eight yards apiece.

By intermission, Au has targeted six Menehune. By game’s end, Au has targeted nine teammates. But that’s deceiving. The second half was a preponderance of activity for Kealohi, who is targeted 11 times. He hauls in 10 receptions for 68 yards in the final two quarters. When Eselu says their passing game is basically “a long handoff,” he means it.

Kealohi finishes with 13 receptions for 129 yards. Grace has five for 89. Out of 10 incompletions, there is one drop all night. ONE. Eselu is an outside-the-box thinker who played tight end at Cal (and Moanalua), actually went to a local high school game in the Bay Area to see the now-illegal A-11 offense on display, and believes strongly that rugby maneuvers translate well to American football. We just haven’t seen everything he and his staff have cooking in the kitchen. Yet.

What Kapolei had during the Taulia years, which all of us at HPW thought would turn into an insane list of record-breaking totals over the span of four years, didn’t materialize into championships. But it was pure run-and-shoot delight in the hands of a prodigy.

What Moanalua has is more of a gridiron lab, turning ideas into working designs and, ultimately, success on the field. Moanalua is 7-0 now (6-0 OIA Division I). A league title, even a state crown, are in reach. Au’s accuracy is paramount. His 68-percent completion rate makes the machine churn. Anything less than 60 percent, and the system could go ker-plunk.

Looking ahead just a bit, Eselu already has an inkling of what the next-gen offense will look like. Perhaps running back Jacob Copeland, who can heave the ball quite a ways, might become the next Tim Tebow at quarterback. Or not.

Jones and Galu and Taulia — and Ron Lee and Tua — were, and are, perfectionists, honing the four-wide to full capacity. The minds at Moanalua are tinkerers from year to year. Jones always said he did his best recruiting when Hawaii played on ESPN. VHS tapes arriving in the football office the following Monday after UH games. Quarterback talent flying to the islands, or homegrown, year after year. Taulia was a once-in-a-generation talent for a public school, and Jones’ relationship with the Tagovailoa family gravitated the coach to the West side. Though we never got to see Taulia’s junior- and senior-year production, the results remain impeccable.

Taulia 2015: 10 games, 217-for-387, 2,784 yards, 22 TDs, 12 INT, 56% completion rate, 7.2 yards per attempt, QB Rating 129.06
Taulia 2016: 13 games, 320-for-526, 3,919 yards, 42 TDs, 9 INT, 61%, 7.5 YPA, QBR 146.35

This is known as maximum four-wide. Moanalua? It’s more of ball-control four-wide. Na Menehune have more games to play, possibly five if they make it to the state final.

Au 2018: 7 games, 194-for-285, 1,955 yards, 21 TDs, 11 INT, 68%, 6.9 YPA, QBR 142.29

Bottom line, both QBs put their teams into the best possible position to win games. Period. But the numbers are eye-popping.

Jones has been and always will be a quarterback whisperer. At Moanalua, Eselu isn’t assuming that kind of arrival next season. Looking ahead just a bit, Eselu already has an inkling of what the next-gen offense will look like. Perhaps running back Jacob Copeland, who can heave the ball quite a ways, might become the next Tim Tebow at quarterback. Or not.

After 2018, Eselu will be prepared to test the big brains of his Menehune with a new system. Or the old. Or a blend. I can almost wait for it.


  1. Austin Chang October 11, 2018 3:29 pm

    Nick Au is not even close to Taulia or Tua, don’t get me wrong Nick is pretty good, and very talented, but he needs to stop throwing picks every game, he doesn’t have an strong arm like Tua or Taulia. And two quarterbacks that is playing in different division is completely different. I don’t see him going to big D1 School, lucky Moanalua have good education and an good coach to guide them for direction.

  2. jason October 11, 2018 3:54 pm

    Umm, without Galu to be their coach, there won’t be one to surpass the Tagovaiola’s. Not unless Galu moves back to the Island.

  3. ??? October 11, 2018 4:01 pm

    AU is not as talented a QB as the Tagovailoa brothers but Moanalua is Undefeated and that’s the ONLY stat that counts!

  4. 4TheLoveofthegame October 11, 2018 4:26 pm

    Wow the comparison is not with Tua or Taulia, its strictly an offensive scheme, I get it no comparison but honestly Tua and Taulia has lines to block, Au doesn’t, and his personality is not to go to D1, it’s the game he loves to play, serious note he is 5’8 150, not close to a prospect. Coach Savaii works with what he got.,next season the speak might have a Tim Tebow with Copeland, who knows. Na Menehunes continue to do what you do. Play the game.

  5. LAKESIDE PRIDE October 11, 2018 9:37 pm

    Spell check please. Why so much hate “guy”? Is your name secretly Todd McShay? I doubt it so leave the scouting to the pros. Easy to throw that shade from the sideline or in this case from behind the screen that you scrolling through just looking for an opportunity to do what you do best. Troll.

    Chang a lang, let me see…hmmm, can you direct me to the paragraph in this article that mentioned anything about him playing D1? You’re right about one thing, we do have a great coach with a great staff and great support from family and friends.

    Like ???’s said, getting that “dub” and dropping dem “L’s” on um is all that matters. So fellas remember to let the players play, coaches coach, refs throw their games, oops I meant flags. Refs throw their flags and the rest of us cheer our teams on with nothing but positivity!

  6. Kamehameha #! October 12, 2018 5:33 am

    The comparison was because of how much Moanalua throw the ball because they can’t run the football. It is about a coach who utilizes the resources he has. Thats what you call coaching! I can only imagine what Eselu can do with a talented like Kahuku! Awesome job Menehunes!

  7. N.A October 12, 2018 7:15 am

    I would like to Thank everyone for their criticism and support, I have gone to Galu Clinics with Tua and Taulia, they are very big supporters and brothers of all QB’s. Coach Galu ran a great program for the QB’s. Please I have always been challenged by the obstacles that comes before me and face them head on. I was taught to always be humble and may GOD create a path for me, where ever it may be. Please do not tarnish what I have accomplished, I can look back and say this was my Senior year and I had a blast. Thank you all again for your time.

  8. Austin Chang October 12, 2018 10:49 am

    @N.A No one say that you suck or terrible at QB yes you have accomplished so many things this year, like don’t wrong comparing to this year to last year, you did way more better, and keep on grinding this year, that’s lot of improvement. Don’t let the haters bring you down man. Taulia and Tua are very talented at football. Not to bring you down or anything but 5’8 almost 155 pounds is too small for QB. You got good coach and staffs, don’t let your negative energy fall apart. Note: Let try to not throw pick this game, you should be focusing on game not comments. Keep up the great work and keep grinding out there. God bless!!

  9. LAKESIDE PRIDE October 12, 2018 11:12 am

    Chang…brah…don’t let your negative energy fall apart? Does that even make sense? Focusing on game not comments? Really? You think that only grown adults read HPW? Just in case you haven’t got a clue, not every one is blessed with size, strength, and thank goodness smarts like you. When you sling it as much as we do, you’re bound to get picks. It’s a numbers game bulleh. So what? Go out there and battle another down. And then you wanna say keep up the great work? Stop contradicting yourself already. Talk about bishh don’t kill my vibe. No worray A. U., unko got you! Cheee huuuuu!

  10. Austin Chang October 12, 2018 11:48 am

    @Lakeside Pride Ok one yea it my fault I didn’t read carefully, second they got game tomorrow, and they need to be physical and mentally prepared. Am not an adult, am 17 years old living in Mililani. Name some quarterbacks around Hawaii that is same size as Nick Au. Am sorry but I don’t play football, or other sports, but am big into football, and I do know some thing about football. And who says that am hating on kid? I was raised to be courteous, not to bring people down. Wtf? You find it negative, but I don’t. I was getting advice and some things that he can improve on. Clearly you didn’t follow the conversation what am saying. I believe you trying to start stuff. But no worries if you feel this way, then I understand. Am going to stay positive.

  11. GoSabers808 October 12, 2018 12:00 pm

    Chang I agree with you, there are some things that Nick Au can improve on. Lakeside Pride you dumb as hell, no wonder why you cannot compete in Open Division. Clearly he was getting advice, not no negative words. Do you play football? Last time I checked we blow you out 51-6. Like Chang said you didn’t follow the conversation at all.

  12. LAKESIDE PRIDE October 12, 2018 3:10 pm

    My badd boyz! You right!

  13. ThisAINTflagFB October 12, 2018 9:20 pm

    Moanalua having a good season, due to the fact all the top OIA top teams in open. If Moanalua wants to win D1 title they will have to go through Iolani, I believe Ezra Grace gives them their best shot. GO MENES

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