Chang aired it out for Warriors
By Stephen Tsai
The official NCAA Football Records Book is 592 pages. A third of the way through, under "individual career records," former Hawai'i quarterback Tim Chang is listed as the career leader in passing yards (17,072), attempts (2,436) and completions (1,388).
Next to his name there is a $ sign, a notation that Chang benefitted from three extra regular-season games because of a medical-hardship exemption and an NCAA rule change that counted Chang's three postseason bowls.
It is a fitting capsulation — for a career and a player — that even the asterisk is unique.
Chang was no ordinary quarterback. He was a homegrown player who drew as many cheers as jeers; a quarterback who set the national record for career passing yards that both defines and defies his legacy.
"I don't think everybody will appreciate him until years go by, when the record (for most passing yards) still stands 45 years from now," said June Jones, who was Chang's head coach at UH. "Timmy Chang accomplished some unbelievable things in Hawai'i. In time, he will get his respect."
Associate head coach Rich Miano, who is in charge of assigning jersey numbers, decided not to issue Chang's No. 14 to any other player.
"He was a great quarterback," Jones said, "and he did it against some unbelievable pressure and expectations."
The knock against Chang was that he was a product of the system — the run-and-shoot at Saint Louis School and its cousin, Jones' four-wide passing attack.
"People think it's so easy," said UH defensive coordinator Cal Lee, who was Chang's head coach at Saint Louis. "It's not easy. Timmy was a natural athlete. But he was a good quarterback because of his work ethic. He worked hard to comprehend the offense, to make it look easy."
UH offensive coordinator Ron Lee remembered Chang's debut as a Saint Louis sophomore in 1997. An injury to Jason Gesser forced Chang into the lineup at mid-game. The Crusaders lost, but the next week, Chang fueled the Crusaders to a dramatic victory over Kamehameha.
"That showed a lot for the kid to come back," said Ron Lee, who was the Crusaders' offensive coordinator that year.
Chang went on to lead the Crusaders to the O'ahu Prep Bowl title that year, and then two state championships.
"Winning a title three years in a row just doesn't happen that often," Ron Lee said. "He was a fierce competitor."
In the 1999 state title game, Chang was one touchdown pass short of the national high school record. There was enough time — and opportunity — to go for the mark.
"We didn't go for it," Cal Lee said. "We didn't go out there just to break records. That wasn't the goal. Timmy understood that. He wasn't disappointed."
During UH's 2000 training camp, Jones called a closed-door meeting with his quarterbacks. They were told that Nick Rolovich would be the starter, and Chang would be No. 2, supplanting the 1999 backup, Mike Harrison.
Rolovich struggled in the first two games, and Chang was awarded his first career start. He passed for more than 3,000 yards that season, triggering the countdown to the national record.
"He had a quick release and a good knowledge of what we were doing," Jones said. "I knew he had a chance (at the record). But it was fun just to see him progress and grow as a player."
Gerald Welch, a teammate at Saint Louis and UH, said: "I don't think people gave him enough credit. He was always trying to get better. Every free time, he was in the coaches' offices, watching film and asking questions. He was dedicated to winning."
Chang played three games in 2001 before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. Rolovich took over, leading the Warriors to eight victories in the final nine games, punctuated by a thrashing of arch-rival Brigham Young.
That sparked the love-annoyed relationship between Chang and UH fans. While Chang might have been good, that wasn't always good enough.
"A couple of games, he was getting booed," Welch recalled. "But he never had anything against the fans. He never said anything bad about them."
Mililani High coach Darnell Arceneaux, a former Saint Louis quarterback, said Chang endured "trials and tribulations (at UH). It's not easy being the local boy representing the state. You're always going to be in the spotlight. There are so much more expectations. He handled it well."
Chang said he was understanding of the fans' reaction.
"Maybe it was my upbringing, a Christian-Catholic family, but I always felt there was good in people," Chang said. "If the people and the fans weren't getting on me, I would think something would be wrong. I know I always didn't play the best games. I thought I was my worst critic, anyway. No matter what fans called me, I thought I would be the hardest on myself. No one was harder on me than myself. In that perspective, being my own worst critic, if the fans didn't like what I did, I already knew I didn't like what I did."
Arceneaux said it was unfair for Chang to be criticized for not scrambling more.
"It wasn't like he was scared to run," Arceneaux said. "He knew it was better to throw the ball 20 yards than to run it for 10. Tough? Do you know what it's like to stand in the pocket, waiting for the last second, knowing you're going to get hit in the mouth? He did that. He got hit a lot in the mouth trying to make a play."
Welch said: "Some people questioned his toughness, but he was very tough. He got hit a lot, and he kept getting up. He never complained."
Arceneaux said Chang, like many quarterbacks in passing offenses, was unjustly branded a system quarterback.
"That's one thing I don't understand," Arceneaux said. "Every college has a system. Colt (Brennan) and the Texas Tech guys got that label. It comes down to whether you're a leader and can win football games. (Chang) was a damn good quarterback and he won games."
But Chang actually welcomed playing in relatively the same offense from seventh grade through his UH senior season.
He said the four-wide offense was one factor in his decision to attend UH. The other?
"I wanted to stay home and represent the state of Hawai'i," Chang said. "As an athlete growing up in Hawai'i, you always want to put Hawai'i on the map. Whenever an athlete competes on the Mainland, or anywhere else in the world, we're representing Hawai'i. It's a unique place, as isolated as we are, with the people and the culture, it's a real blessing to be from here. We carry that pride on our shoulders. I wanted to represent the state."
Chang is a devoted father to Dylan, who turns 5 in two weeks. Chang is a semester away from earning a bachelor's degree. He aspires to be a football coach.
Chang recently was in the news when he was arrested after allegedly grabbing the camera of a woman who was shooting video of a street fight. No charges were filed.
"He's a great friend, a great man, a great Saint Louis gentleman," Arceneaux said. "He put Hawai'i on the map. He set the bar for a lot of (local) quarterbacks coming out. He put up some great numbers."
Arceneaux said Chang does not care about the records.
"He cares about memories," Arceneaux said.
Welch said: "He never talks about the records. They don't mean anything to him. The only plaque he gets is on his teeth."
Chang said the only memento of his NCAA record is a football, which he gave to his father, Levi.
"All of the trophies I gave to my family," Chang said. "Records are meant to be broken, and mine will be broken. The biggest thing that came from football was the different life lessons along the way. The hard work. The perseverance. The friendships, and doing things with the team, and working together to accomplish one goal.
"The records don't mean as much as going to battle with the guys. I see some of those guys around, and it's a bond that will be there forever. You fought with these guys in the trenches. You sweat. You cried. You broke bones. It builds a different kind of friendship. To this day, I appreciate all of the guys I came into contact with. Even guys across the side of the ball. Saint Louis-Kamehameha is one of the biggest rivalries in the state. I battled against those guys. But some of my best friends are from Kamehameha. Football brings people together. It's a great game. I appreciate that more than anything."