In hanabata days of youth football, it was known as the "breadbasket" — the area between the team name and bottom of the numbers on the front of a player’s jersey. In college football, it is known as the "zone," a sweet spot of a target that even the most butter-fingered receiver can secure a pass.
In preparation for tomorrow’s season opener against Southern California, Hawaii slotback Kealoha Pilares yesterday adjusted the aim of the JUGS throwing machine so it would fire catchable passes. The irony was that the player loading the footballs — quarterback Bryant Moniz — can be as accurate as the JUGS.
During games, Pilares noted, Moniz is in the zone.
"Mo knows how to place passes," Pilares said. "He knows when to gun it, and when to put a touch on it. What I like most is he’s an easy quarterback to catch passes from."
The difference between the man and the machine? "The JUGS does not get tired," Pilares said.
Moniz, a fourth-year junior from Leilehua High, worked this summer to challenge that presumption.
Moniz was looking for a way to conquer the arm fatigue that troubled him in 2009, his first season as a Warrior. Maybe his problem could be traced to overuse, especially after sitting out a year after transferring from Fresno City College. Or maybe it was a glitch in his throwing mechanics. Moniz’s uncle, Mike Smithe, sought help from former boxing standout Eiichi Jumawan, who owns a training center in Kapolei.
"Mike called me up and asked, ‘Would you mind training my nephew?’ " Jumawan recalled. "Bryant came down to the gym. That’s when I realized he was the same guy who was the quarterback at UH."
The Pearlside Boxing Club was created from the structure of what used to be a self-storage building. Jumawan tore down walls, installed a boxing ring, and hung heavy bags. Walls were built, painted, then covered with mirrors. For all of the renovations, the club was rooted in boxing’s past.
"We’re doing the drills we’ve been doing in boxing for years," said Jumawan, a two-time Olympic alternate. "It’s helpful in football training. A play in football is, maybe, six, seven, eight seconds. Then everybody goes back into the huddle. Boxing is more of endurance conditioning. You can take that conditioning, and then apply it to football."
Every Friday, for 2 hours, Jumawan worked with Moniz on exercises designed to improve leverage and strengthen arms.
Then Moniz was put on an anarobic-exercise program. Moniz would frenetically throw a series of punches for 10 seconds. Then 20 seconds. Then 30. Then, finally, a full minute.
"I’ve never been so tired," Moniz said.
Jumawan noted that "after a couple of times of that, he was winded. By the end of the summer, he had no problem doing a whole minute of that. It was good for muscle endurance. I think it helped his arm get stronger."
On Moniz’s evaluation, Jumawan noted, "If Bryant weren’t so good at being a quarterback, he should try amateur boxing. He’s a natural athlete."
Offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich has gushed at Moniz’s mastery of the offense — in video rooms and on the field. Rolovich said Moniz can make all of the run-and-shoot’s passes — the fade along the sideline; to the vacant area at the end of a post; the lob to a moving target on the bubble screen …
But now, Moniz does not tire.
"I feel stronger," Moniz said.
"He looks stronger," said Mouse Davis, architect of the modern run-and-shoot offense who was brought back to coach the UH receivers.
"I like the kid," Davis said. "He has a good, live arm. He can make the throws. He has good vision. And he has good athletic ability. I don’t know how many times he saved them last year from sacks, but it was a great number."
Davis said Bryant is comparable to Tim Chang, a record-setting former UH quarterback. Chang had a quicker release, for sure, and ran an offense that is similar in structure but different in fine content from the four-wide scheme Moniz operates.
"He’s different from Timmy," Davis said. "He’s more athletic. He’s quicker. He can escape. Timmy was more sitting in (the pocket) and throwing the ball."
Bronson Tiwanak, a fifth-year senior, was the center when he and Moniz were roommates at Fresno City College. Tiwanak, who will start tomorrow, and Moniz carpool to UH every day.
"He’s the same guy," Tiwanak said. "He jokes around a lot. But when it comes to game time, he leads the huddle. He’s a great quarterback."