The stars have aligned for Team Mauka.
What more could they want? When the Polynesian Hall of Fame Bowl kicks off on Saturday night at Aloha Stadium, the team in red will have phenom passer Taulia Tagovailoa at quarterback. The former Kapolei record-breaker is enthused about his offense, which includes pass catchers who are commits to Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon.
“Patrick Mahomes. Everybody knows Patrick Mahomes. This is Taulia Mahomes,” said wide receiver DeMarco Hellams of DeMatha Catholic (Md.), an Alabama commit.
“Honestly, it’s my first time being here and he’s a great player,” said wide receiver Isaiah Hazel of Dr. Henry Wise (Md.), a Maryland commit. “He’s a leader on the field. He communicates. He’s a smooth player. I love his game because he can run and he get the ball to wherever you need it to be.”
Tagovailoa had a storied, if brief, two-year stretch at Kapolei with mind-blowing statistics. He is reunited with his offensive coordinator from the 2016 season, current Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive coordinator and associate head coach June Jones, for this bowl game. That means Team Mauka’s route-runners will be expected to read defenses and adjust on the fly. Not a simple thing with less than a week of practices.
“It is (hard), but when you’ve got players like these, it’s a lot easier,” said Tagovailoa, who has signed with Alabama. “I’m pretty sure it’s easier for the coaches, too.”
Tagovailoa’s approach is about patience.
“We’re not trying to look for (perfection), but we’ll take it one play at a time,” he said.
“We’ll have fun,” Hazel added.
Their opponent, Team Makai, is also loaded with talent, but the x-factor for Mauka may be the connection between Tagovailoa and his former QB guru — offensive coordinator at Kapolei — June Jones. He is an assistant coach with Team Mauka, enjoying an opportunity to work with high school players again.
“I’ll tell you one thing, you sure find out who wants to play and who doesn’t want to play. A lot of these kids have six stars or 10 stars or whatever it is, they think they’ve already made it,” Jones said. “They haven’t made it. They’ve got to pay attention to detail. You find out that kids have changed.”
The finer aspects, like reading defensive coverages and tweaking routes, take time to develop.
“We’re doing a little of it, not a ton of it. In this setting, you don’t have long enough to really teach them everything. We’re doing what we can do to make sure that we don’t call anything that they are not sure of, and limit it on game day to what they can do,” Jones said.
Tagovailoa was crisp in Thursday morning’s practice, but got “sacked” at least twice by Team Mauka’s explosive defensive linemen.
“He’s got a lot of ability, that’s for sure,” Jones said. “I haven’t spent any time with him since that sophomore year at Kapolei until this week, but I see that he’s got a quick release, still. He’s accurate with the football. He knows the routes, he knows what he’s doing. He’s pretty darn good.”