Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz, a former walk-on, passed for more than 5,000 yards last season. In the Warriors' season-opening victory over Colorado last week, he ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns.
When Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz ran for a 57-yard touchdown last week against Colorado, he took the shortest route possible — straight up the middle and into the end zone.
It’s a stark contrast to the road he traveled to become Hawaii’s starter, which included one fall at Fresno City College and two years as a pizza deliveryman. Moniz was a walk-on who was almost switched to safety before getting his chance.
“It definitely makes me appreciative,” said Moniz, who will lead the Warriors against Washington on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
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Moniz led the nation in passing last season (5,040 yards, 39 touchdowns) while skillfully operating Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense.
That would have been hard to imagine when Moniz was a senior at Leilehua High in Wahiawa, Hawaii. Listed at 6 feet, 200 pounds, he was timed then at 4.9 in the 40 (he says he’s faster now), which had college recruiters saying thanks but no thanks.
With no offers from any Division I schools, he followed a high-school teammate to Fresno City College, where he was the starting quarterback in 2007. But he left quickly to return to Honolulu due to the birth of his daughter, deciding to walk on at Hawaii.
“I just wanted to keep playing football,” he said.
To support his new family, he got a job as a pizza deliveryman, one he said he liked for its simplicity.
Initially placed on the scout team, he spent a few sessions on defense, and when he picked off a few passes, coaches thought above moving him to that side of the ball.
“Thankfully they didn’t,” he said.
And when Hawaii’s top two quarterbacks were injured early in the 2009 season, Moniz grabbed the top spot and hasn’t let go.
After some fits and starts in 2009, he blossomed in 2010, working behind a veteran offensive line and a receiving corps that included two NFL draft picks.
With many new receivers this year, however, Hawaii put in a few more plays designed for Moniz to run. It paid off when he rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries last week in a 34-17 win over Colorado.
“I think the thing that surprised our guys the most was that he’s stronger than you think, and faster,” said Colorado coach Jon Embree. “Our guys a couple of times thought they had him tackled and maybe overpursued a little bit, but he was strong enough to run through defensive-line tackles if you didn’t hit him solid.”
Moniz said the running “just kind of happened,” and he won’t necessarily run that much every week, though he likes that opponents have to plan for it.
Given the way they defended the pass last week against Eastern Washington, the Huskies might prefer that Moniz runs.
It should also help, however, that cornerback Quinton Richardson will return after sitting out last week with an ankle sprain. Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday that UW will go with three-cornerback sets often to help defend Hawaii’s offense.
Moniz threw for just 178 yards against Colorado, a total lower than all but one of Hawaii’s games last season.
The Warriors have won 15 of the past 20 games Moniz has started. Those numbers have only ratcheted up the expectations among Hawaii fans for what Moniz might be able to do this season — and the school has set up a Facebook page to help promote his Heisman candidacy.
Moniz, though, said he takes such talk in stride.
“That kind of pressure doesn’t bother me, because no one expected me to do what I’ve done,” he said. “No one expected me to even still be playing. So there is no pressure because I feel like I’ve already won and proven myself and every game I just enjoy and embrace the blessing of being on the field.”
• Sarkisian said the only player who played a week ago in danger of not seeing action this week is safety James Sample, who reinjured a shoulder late in Saturday’s game.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com