The arms wars are growing in high school football.
Whether they’re a part of it or benefit from the decades of development in passing talent, John-Keawe and Jaron-Keawe Sagapolutele are right there at the upper echelon. John-Keawe Sagapolutele enters his junior year with Punahou, nearly two years removed from a remarkable freshman season.
Jaron, who enjoyed a major growth spurt and is now taller than his older brother, is a freshman slinger at Saint Louis. While John had an opportunity to play when Hugh Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fall of 2019, Jaron’s considerable talent is going to remain on the Crusaders’ junior varsity team simply because there is a surplus of elite QB talent at Kalaepohaku.
John Sagapolutele was named one of the five co-MVPs at the QB position recently at the Polynesian Bowl Combine at Skippa Diaz Stadium.
“I feel really grateful to be selected to be one of the five. The kids there are really good. I wanted to prove myself and shine,” he said.
Jaron Sagapolutele is all business on the field.
“It was good,” he said of the combine. I learned stuff, but it was also a long day. It was just like a workout. Coach Galu (Tagovailoa) is good. He knows what he’s doing.”
Since his freshman season and through the pandemic, John-Keawe has grown three inches taller and gained more than 30 pounds. He is now 6 feet, 2 inches and 215 pounds.
“I was about 180. It was natural growth. I got heavier because I started lifting more, mostly at school, and I go to a place called Sports Medicine Hawaii, and Phase 1 Sports Hawaii,” he said. “At first, it felt weird. You’re growing fast, but I knew I just had to get rest, sleep eight hours a day and I’ll keep growing.”
Jaron Sagapolutele had long looked up his brother, literally. He went from 5-5 to 6-2 during the pandemic and now weighs 200 pounds.
“In March fo 2020, I was about 5-5. I was still taller than everyone my age, going into seventh grade. John was about 5-11. Now he’s 6-2, but I’m taller by a half-inch,” Jaron said. “I’d say my dad’s side is tall, by my mom’s side has super tall people, too. I have an older cousin who’s a year older, he’s 6-5. Josiah Timoteo. He plays right tackle for Waianae.”
Coach and trainer Keli‘i Tilton saw the potential in the brothers. Jaron was already exceptional by middle school.
“He was in seventh grade and I would tell the parents these two might be playing against each other and starting for two different teams,” Tilton said.
Then came Jaron’s more recent growth spurt. He is now a shade taller than John.
“The common trait that they have, obviously, is their arm. They’re both talented and athletic in terms of arm strength, accuracy, putting touch on the ball. Where they’re very different is John is more quick twitch with his arm. We’re trying to get Jaron to shorten up his stroke. I think he’s growing into his body with his growth spurt,” Tilton noted. “Reading defenses, they’re pretty similar. Both have quick eyes to pick up defenses. They’ve been taught well.”
Jaron spent much time with Frank Lacaden, Saint Louis’ intermediate coach and also head coach of All-Blacks Crusaders. The latter fields tackle and Pylon teams. John has trained under Kawe Johnson.
“John playing Pylon with Kawe has been big. Kawe teaching him coverages and what to look for. Also, the system and coaches at Punahou,” Tilton noted. “Both are similar in terms of IQ and arm strength, both incredibly gifted and athletic when it comes to playing the position.”
From Campbell to Mililani to Punahou to Saint Louis and every program that has consistently developed high-level quarterbacks — ‘Iolani and Leilehua among them, to be sure — the wave of talent development in the shotgun has been massive in the islands. A better fit for Jaron Sagapolutele may not exist, even though this COVID year has opened the door for mass exodus via transfer for student-athletes.
Most have opted to stay put and be patient, including Jaron.
“He can actually compete right now at the varsity level,” Tilton said. “But he is down at the JV right now because Saint Louis has three other quarterbacks who can compete for the starting position. I think a year down at JV will mold him a lot better for the next level.”
Campbell has a good situation at quarterback. Mililani has four players battling for the starting position. Punahou has a lock with John-Keawe Sagapolutele, of course. It just made more sense to stay at Kalaepohaku for Jaron Sagapolutele.
“Him playing with Frank Lacaden the last couple of years, the loyalty with him and what he’s done for him, as well, I think even more so solidified him staying at Saint Louis,” Tilton said.
It’s not like Jaron ever thought about leaving, but the food chain at QB for Saint Louis is symmetrical with immense talent for the next three seasons.
Meanwhile, the brothers had each other to work out with through the dog days of the pandemic.
“Sometimes we throw to each other. I’m like a receiver, too. We both played that (position),” John Sagapolutele said. “After the pandemic year, Jaron got slow for some reason.”
Punahou’s opportunity to splurge on the ILH in 2020, with a deep lineup and Saint Louis reloading after the graduation of some all-time greats, was bounced by the cancellation of football in Hawaii. This year, the Buffanblu, under new head coach Nate Kia, have plenty of optimism.
“I think we came a long way from the COVID season to now. The boys worked really hard,” Sagapolutele said. “They went to get out there and have a game.”
Official practice for high schools begins today (July 19) with helmets only.
“Hopefully, we can just continue to get better as a team, show what we can do and leave everything on the field,” Sagapolutele said.
The result of John-Keawe Sagapolutele winding up at Punahou was slightly surprising to some.
“When I was growing up, my dream school was Saint Louis. I know a lot of family members went there, but my parents wanted to send me to Punahou for the education and the opportunity,” he said. “Just so happened, Jaron was young, he was a good quarterback and my parents didn’t want us to compete. I think he would only get to play his junior and senior year.”
Now it seems that Jaron Sagapolutele will have to do even more exceptional work just to start more than one year at Saint Louis down the road. John Sagapolutele insists his job isn’t a lock, either.
“We have six quarterbacks,” he said.
The task is difficult, the academic load is never easy and the competition is always at the ready. Making sacrifices is part of the lifestyle. John used to catch the bus to Punahou from Ewa Beach.
“I’m not even allowed to have a girlfriend,” John said. “My mom said we’re not allowed to have girlfriends because they want us to focus on our goals first.”
Neither brother has a college scholarship offer yet. John Sagapolutele has worked out at a Redlands (Calif.) camp and a Quest for 7 camp (Calif.).
John-Keawe Sagapolutele’s Lockdown Staples
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “The Secret Life of Pets”
“I watched it in the movie theater. We had a goldfish before. That’s why I liked the movie because I always wanted a dog.”
2. “Hobbs and Shaw”
Top 3 food/snack/drink
1. Udon noodles, Ohana Ramen.
2. Pancake pie.
“They have it at IHOP. My auntie (Lisa) used to take us there when we were little. I don’t know if they have it anymore.”
3. Crunchy peanut butter, banana, honey on toast.
Top 3 music artists
1. Gary Keawe – “Sands”
“He’s my great grandfather. He’s still alive now. He’s 83. Genoa Keawe’s son. She’s my great-great grandmother. That’s why we have Keawe in all of our first names hyphenated.”
2. Sammy J – “Together”
3. J Boog – “Love Season”
New life skill: cooking, washing clothes and driving.
“Before, my mom used to wash our clothes all the time. My mom went on trips because she’s a flight attendant. So I said, I’m going to learn how to do it. She actually taught me before she went on the trip. And I got my license. I drive my brother and one of our teammates (Ana Lu) to practice.”
“Shout out to my parents (Tiki and Setema Sagapolutele), my family, Jaron and my uncle Fono Lauti. And Coach Keli‘i, Coach Kawe Johnson. And the Punahou coaching staff.”
Jaron-Keawe Sagapolutele’s Lockdown Staples
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “Demon Slayer”
“The animations were lit. Me and my brother watch a lot of anime.”
“I’ve seen it four times.”
Top 3 food/drink/snack
1. Fettuccine Alfredo, Auntie Pasto’s in Kunia
“I get it once a week. I love the cream sauce.”
2. Chocolate strawberry bowl, Jamba Juice
“It’s pretty good.”
3. Chicken katsu curry, Ohana Ramen (Ewa Beach)
4. Beef cakes.
“It’s beef and shaped like a cake.”
Top 3 music artists
New life skill: Baking and cooking
“I can make cakes, brownies, omelettes. My auntie (Lisa Lolohea) and my mom. My auntie, she knows how to do it, so I just went with it. My mom taught me to make omelettes. Cheese, mushrooms, bacon. Tuna.”
“Shout out to my mom and dad. My coach, Keli‘i Tilton, and my quarterbacks coach from All-Blacks, Mike Nua. Shout out to my All-Blacks coaches, Frank Lacaden. My uncle Fono Lauti. He coaches me. Shout out to Coach Shawn Borges. He’s the OC.”