Moniz at wheel of Leilehua's drive to championship game
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
WAHIAWA Barely 15 hours after its big 17-14 upset over Kahuku in the Division I state semifinals, the Leilehua High School football team was back on the field Saturday morning beginning preparation for this week's championship game against Kamehameha.
Thus began a slow-moving parade that snaked through almost all of Wahiawa's neighborhoods past Iliahi Elementary School, around the north end of the botanical garden, past Fred Wright Park and the General Hospital, into Whitmore Village, back to the 'ewa side of Kamehameha Highway, around Ka'ala Elementary and back down California Avenue to campus.
Throughout the 75-minute tour, residents young and old responded to the honking horns by coming out to their porches and driveways offering waves, shakas and smiles. An elderly woman in a straw hat smiled and waved; a young woman paused from washing her car to do the same; an elderly man interrupted his yard work to salute the team; pre-teen kids on bicycles and skateboards and shirtless toddlers still in diapers jumped up and down and cheered.
The unofficial grand marshall of this parade was Bryant Moniz, a sophomore quarterback who played in his first varsity football game three months ago yet has been a cornerstone throughout Leilehua's 11-2 season that hardly anyone expected.
Moniz, affectionately called "Mo" by teammates and coaches, seems almost anointed for the leadership role.
"Early in fall practice, we thought we might be cursed because we had a couple of major injuries in the first two days," Mules coach Nolan Tokuda said. "So I brought in a 'bon-san' (Buddhist priest) to help, and we had the kids line up, strictly voluntary. He went by the kids one-by-one, but when he got to Mo, he said, 'No need worry about this boy; he has ancestors watching over him. This boy is powerful.'
"And he didn't even know Mo until that day. But he could tell there was something about him."
There definitely was something about Moniz from an early age. At 5, he started playing baseball and advanced so quickly he skipped the second year of the Shetland division and went straight to Pinto.
In soccer, he was playing in the Under-12 age group when he was 9. And as a freshman, Moniz was the starting left fielder and No. 2 hitter on Leilehua's varsity baseball team that won the O'ahu Interscholastic Association's Western Division.
In his first varsity football game in August, he threw five touchdown passes.
"The sky is the limit for him," Tokuda said. "He's a college quarterback stuck in a high school body."
WHERE: Aloha Stadium WHEN: Friday WHO: 5 p.m. Campbell Sabers vs. Iolani Raiders, Division II championship; 8 p.m. Leilehua Mules vs. Kamehameha Warriors, Division I championship TICKETS: $12 adults, $5 62-years and older and grades K-12. $3 discount vouchers for adult tickets are available at First Hawaiian Bank branches. PARKING: $2 RADIO: K108 (1080 AM) will broadcast the first game; KKEA (1420 AM) will air the second game. SERIES HISTORY: Kamehameha leads the series, 3-0, since 1949. Iolani leads the series, 1-0. PAST STATE CHAMPIONS: 1999 Saint Louis 2003 Kahuku, Division I; 'Aiea Division II
WHAT: First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships
2002 Saint Louis
WHERE: Aloha Stadium
WHO: 5 p.m. Campbell Sabers vs. Iolani Raiders, Division II championship; 8 p.m. Leilehua Mules vs. Kamehameha Warriors, Division I championship
TICKETS: $12 adults, $5 62-years and older and grades K-12. $3 discount vouchers for adult tickets are available at First Hawaiian Bank branches.
RADIO: K108 (1080 AM) will broadcast the first game; KKEA (1420 AM) will air the second game.
SERIES HISTORY: Kamehameha leads the series, 3-0, since 1949. Iolani leads the series, 1-0.
PAST STATE CHAMPIONS:
1999 Saint Louis
2003 Kahuku, Division I; 'Aiea Division II
Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said Moniz "amazes me" with how he can squeeze passes through defenders, and Kamehameha coach Kanani Souza called Moniz "pinpoint accurate."
But more than his strong arm and mobility, the thing about the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Moniz that impresses most observers is his uncanny poise and composure, especially for a sophomore.
"When we played them, it was a really tight game," said 'Aiea coach Wendell Say, whose Na Ali'i fell to the Mules, 21-14. "But we didn't rattle him at all."
Souza said he had never seen Leilehua play before Friday, but it did not take long to recognize Moniz's wealth of intangibles.
"With him, it's obviously more than just physical gifts," Souza said. "He has instincts, mental ability and composure. It's beyond the athleticism. He's something special."
Ironically, Moniz applied to Kamehameha twice to enter to the fourth and ninth grades but was rejected both times. But he said he is happy at Leilehua, where his grandfather, the late Bill Smithe, was athletic director before becoming the OIA's longtime executive secretary.
"I believe God has reasons for everything," Moniz said. "I've found the benefits of staying here. I fit in. This is my place, and it's worked out for the best."
His teammates and coaches certainly think so. Moniz has adeptly balanced the roles of rookie and leader, doing so by being humble yet aggressive.
He displayed unusual toughness two weeks ago when he played the entire game against Kealakehe despite badly bruised ribs that had sent him to the hospital just six days before.
"Pain is part of the game, it's the price you pay for playing football," Moniz said. "It's just something you gotta do. Losing is more painful than physical pain."
Moniz showed decisiveness Friday when he called for two passing plays on the Mules' final series instead of running the ball. The passes led to a first down that sealed the victory.
"Sometimes in practice, I'll call the wrong play just to see what he does, if he'll notice," Tokuda said. "He'll make the read, and then he'll change the play because he knows what to attack."
Moniz also has earned the respect of his teammates by working hard and being more than just a jock. He helps lead his sophomore class in assemblies and greets strangers with a smile.
"I live in Wahiawa, and I've heard a lot of good things about that kid," Say said.
Fans probably will be hearing a lot more in the next two years.
Reach Wes Nakama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2456.