The heavy June run of unofficial visits by island football players includes Saint Louis’ glut of talent at quarterback.
AJ Bianco, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound slinger entering his senior year, enjoyed his visits to Oregon and UCLA, sandwiching the Elite 11. After returning, he visited Hawaii.
“It was good fun. I enjoyed the visits up there. Oregon is a little different now, still throwing the ball a lot,” Bianco said. “UCLA has Chip Kelly.”
Bianco’s offers are from Hawaii, Nebraska and Washington State. He has not indicated a preference yet.
“I like them all,” he said.
Like some of the storied quarterbacks in Saint Louis’ history, Bianco hasn’t played major snaps as an underclassman.
“He came in and sat freshman year, sophomore year, he got hurt. Then there was no season last year. So he really hasn’t had a lot of exposure,” Crusaders coach Ron Lee said. “What I saw in spring practice and scrimmages, I saw a lot of good things. I think that’s going to come out.”
Adapting to a college offense, he added, is about the right match.
“AJ has a high IQ. All of our quarterbacks do. He’s just got to play and look for someplace that fits him, too,” Lee said. “Our quarterbacks come out of our system with a good understanding of defenses. It doesn’t matter what (colleges) run, it all fits in. A good example is Tua (Tagovailoa). He came out and Alabama was at least 50-50 run-pass, but they adjusted a little bit to his talents. He competed in spring ball and competed for the starting spot. Chev (Cordeiro) did it. Then (Jayden) de Laura did it. Timmy (Chang). Jason (Gesser), they all did it.”
Lee believes that players can affect the process by showing their enthusiasm in a program.
“AJ has no film because he hasn’t played. In the classroom and on the field, he’s a good one. Kahi (Graham) has been going all over the country, getting MVP at camps, and he doesn’t have any offers yet. Coaches don’t like to offer early for certain positions. They may be holding their cards. They want interest from the kid,” said Lee, who coached at Hawaii.
Conversely, sitting on idle for a prospect too long can work against a program.
“AJ’s spring games (scrimmages), you’ve got to take a risk if you’re thinking of offering. You can’t wait. For our guys, let (coaches) know you’re interested. You don’t need 20 offers,” Lee said.
Bianco’s ability to throw from the pocket with arm strength is a major plus. He was on track to start as a junior last season before the pandemic led to the cancellation of football. This fall, he is competing with a host of talented passers but appears to have the inside track again.
“I consider myself definitely a thrower first, but with the ability to extend a play. Guys I watch, obviously Tua and Marcus (Mariota) because that’s Saint Louis boys and I grew up watching them,” Bianco said. “But I also love watching (Patrick) Mahomes, probably my favorite quarterback in the league.”
Lee already draws a comparison between Bianco and a certain former Oregon Ducks player.
“He reminds me a lot of the San Diego Chargers quarterback (Justin Herbert). AJ isn’t a Cordeiro or de Laura, but he can run. A big kid, strong, 225 (pounds) and just under 6-4. He’s been lifting, a solid 220, 225 now,” Lee said.
Saint Louis returns one of the best offensive lines in the state. The receiving corps is deep and talented, but largely unproven because of the pandemic.
“I think we’ve got a really talented group of receivers this year. A lot of them are younger guys and have yet to play, but guys who will make a name of themselves. We have some taller guys, and the slots are really electric. Burners. A good mix of everything,” Bianco noted.
The running back position at Saint Louis used to include big men like Prince Brown. Over the years, Ron Lee’s offense has leaned more toward shifty playmakers who can still provide pass protection.
“It’s going to be Ola (Apduhan),” Bianco said. “He’s a smaller guy, but he makes the first guy miss all the time. Real explosive. Compared to Koali (Nishigaya), I think Koali’s a little more finesse, more of a juke-you-out-of-your-shoes runner than a power back. Ola’s small, but he’s really stocky.”
The receivers and quarterbacks get their daily studying in at the football office with Lee and the staff.
“Nothing’s changed. Coach (Lee) is pretty much the same. We watch film every day. Quarterbacks go in for two hours. Wide receivers go in about an hour before practice. We’re out there every day working (on conditioning), excited for our first game and ready to put on a show,” Bianco said.
Lee mentioned recently that 300 players from varsity to intermediate are in conditioning workouts at Kalaepohaku, churning through the weight room and the field.
“I think it’s cool. Saint Louis is where everyone wants to go play football. If you want to compete, Saint Louis is where it’s at,” said Bianco, who is originally from Maui. “I was hooping a bit the last time I was on Maui. Pickup ball in Lahaina. I live on the west side. I was running two-on-two at the Boys and Girls Club.”
Saint Lous is scheduled to host scrimmages with Moanalua on July 29, and Kaimuki and Kailua on July 31. So far, there is a preseason game scheduled at Campbell on Aug. 13.
Then the Crusaders will travel to Las Vegas for a battle with Bishop Gorman on Aug. 20. The Gaels are ranked No. 13 nationally by MaxPreps.
“I’m super excited. Just being able to play competition at that high of a level is going to show where we stack up,” Bianco said. “We’re going to be good. We got guys.”