Being Hawaiian and playing for the University of Hawaii is very special...
Honolulu, HI—It has been 15 minutes since the Hawaii football team finished practice on this August day and quarterback Bryant Moniz is sitting on the ground signing autographs.
He is as happy as can be.
It's not the task at hand which has the former Leilehua High School standout reveling in such high spirits, though. Moniz is not the type of person content with attention and fame.
Rather, it's his fortune: Cali.
Cali, his three-year-old daughter, is sitting next to him, oftentimes climbing on top of him, her sun-kissed golden-blond hair blowing in the wind.
She's the reason Moniz is where he's at he says, "embracing" his time as Hawaii's quarterback.
"You know, I never expected all of this to come about," Moniz says before sitting down to sign autographs.
"For me, this is all icing on the cake and I just embrace every moment of it."
Things are good now for Moniz. Last month the University of Hawaii launched a "Bryant Moniz for Heisman" campaign to drum up support for his senior season.
They used "Mighty Mo" as their catchphrase, it's a reference to the battleship USS Missouri moored just 12 miles from their campus at Pearl Harbor.
One of four Iowa-class battleships built by the United States Navy during the Pacific War, the Missouri is decorated with 11 battle stars for service in the Korean War, the Gulf War, and World War II.
In its heyday, "Mighty Mo's" trademark feature was nine 16-inch guns that could fire a 2,700-pound shell 23 miles in 50 seconds.
With pinpoint accuracy.
Fast-forward to 2011 and it's easy to see why Hawaii decided to borrow the storied battleship's nickname.
Last season Moniz threw for 5,040 yards and 39 touchdowns. Leading the nation in both categories and leading Hawaii to a Western Athletic Conference co-championship.
This upcoming season he has been named to the watch lists for the Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award and numerous Heisman Trophy watch lists.
I would say Moniz deserves to be called "Mighty Mo" even if he only has one gun instead of nine.
His right arm is deadly if you're a defensive coordinator trying to defend him.
Always has been.
When Moniz was a sophomore at Leilehua High School on Oahu he exploded for 2,879 yards passing and 27 touchdowns.
When he was a junior he broke his collarbone, only played 13 quarters, and still threw for 1,018 yards. When he was a senior for the Mules in 2006 his head coach Nolan Tokuda told a local newspaper reporter:
"My only criticism of Bryant is that he is a senior."
That year he threw for 1,662 yards, 20 touchdowns, and earned himself all-state honors.
But for the college football "experts," whose job it is to scour gridirons across the country every year in hopes of finding the next Tim Tebow—or Colt Brennan if you prefer—Moniz wasn't even a blip on their radar.
"I really don't know," Moniz says when asked why no one offered him a scholarship.
"Maybe I'm not your typical-sized quarterback, just making six feet, a lot of guys are like 6' 3" and taller. You know, those kind of things."
Sometimes a highly accomplished player who does not garner any scholarship offers coming out of high school would hold a grudge against the system that slighted them.
"No, that's not in my personality," Moniz says. "I just kind of like to roll with the punches. Live with the way life goes."
In 2007, his life went to California.
Fresno City College was his destination.
His long-time girlfriend Kiley went along and took classes with him.
"It was totally different," he says. "That was the first time I saw the seasons change, you know? I got to witness fall, the winter, it was cold."
As a freshman for Fresno City College, Moniz quickly became the team's starting quarterback and threw for 2,268 yards and 18 scores, he also rushed for two touchdowns.
His coach Tony Caviglia once remarked that Moniz would often wait at his office in the morning before he showed up, eager to watch film and learn the offense.
"It was fun. A change of life," Moniz says. "Living on your own, cooking your own meals and stuff like that. I thought it was a great experience, a great time for me to grow up."
But it wasn't meant to last. Kiley became pregnant and the two had an important decision to make. Stay in Fresno for Moniz' sophomore season, or pack up and return to Hawaii where football would have to be placed on the back burner.
"The biggest thing was having my daughter," Moniz says about leaving Fresno.
"I wanted to have her here, raise her here, so that's the main reason why we came home. She was born here on June 19th. I went there for the one season, one semester, and I flew home."
As a young boy from Wahiawa on the island of Oahu, Moniz says he was too immersed in activities to follow the Hawaii Warriors football team he is now a part of.
"I grew up always playing a lot of sports, baseball, soccer, football. I was very active in all those things throughout the year," he says.
"I started surfing when I was about eight, (now) I surf when I can."
Moniz learned how to surf at Haleiwa, but now he "follows the waves. Wherever it is around the island that's where I go. I like to boogie board Waimea sandbar, surf Aliʻis, surf Off-the-Wall, you know, just wherever."
Moniz also started stand up paddle surfing, the newest craze in water sports.
For those who don't know, "SUPing" involves a larger than normal surfboard, a long paddle, and yes, paddling yourself down the face of a wave.
"I really like it," he says. "Ever since I started (SUPing) I never touched a regular surfboard. I'm hooked on it."
But even with all the sandbars, surf and sunshine, not everything has been easy for Moniz since he moved back. After enrolling at a local community college just to get enough credits to be eligible at Hawaii, he still had to try out for the team.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to make it," he says. "I remember waiting after the walk-on tryouts and it seemed like, I think we had to wait over the weekend, but it seemed like forever.
"I was like 'Damn, am I going to get a call? How does this work?' So when I finally found out that I made it, brah, that was probably one of the biggest things for me," he says, the relief and excitement still noticeable in his voice.
"And then from there it was just finding my role on the team. So I played special teams, tried to do some things on scout defense. I was just trying to get the coaches to get a look at me."
And if he didn't make the team what would he have done?
"That's tough to say, you know I never did really think that. I don't know, failing I guess wasn't an option for me. I don't think I would have known what to do until it actually happened."
Luckily, it didn't happen.
And what about his fame?
"I think it just comes with the territory," Moniz says.
"For me, making the team was a big-enough accomplishment. It only lasts for so long, so I just enjoy every moment."
...I carry the Hawaiian flag out every game to always remind me of what I'm playing for, it's the Hawaiian culture, the State of Hawaii that I represent. - Bryant Moniz.
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