HONOLULU — At the close of spring football practices last weekend, the Hawaii football depth chart remained malleable as new coach Timmy Chang intends to use the full offseason – and possibly much of fall camp – to firm things up.
Quarterback, while still up for grabs, began to take shape over the course of 15 practices spread over a month. A seven-way competition between orange-shirted players was gradually whittled to four by last Saturday.
Those who’ve separated themselves are last year’s backup Brayden Schager; third-year sophomore Jake Farrell; senior Armani Edden; and Washington State transfer Cammon Cooper.
That group is by no means a final four for the fall as more signal-callers could be added to the roster, or someone else could make a run with their offseason work, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ian Shoemaker told Spectrum News.
“What this summer looks like, what fall camp looks like will dictate that starter, and there’s always a chance we’ll add a portal (player),” Shoemaker said. “There’s still a chance we add another guy. So, who’s going in as the starting guy against Vanderbilt (Aug. 27), we’re too far away. I want to invest in all seven of those guys and making sure that room is as strong as it can be, so whoever comes out of there as the starter we feel the most comfortable with and we have depth as well.”
Connor Apo, Ephraim Tuliloa and Chad Owens Jr. were the other three quarterbacks in spring camp.
Schager and Farrell were the starters for the white and black squads at the spring game on April 16, though all the quarterbacks saw some degree of work. The final week following that intrasquad scrimmage was used to introduce as many stray concepts as possible to the players so they'll be able to revisit them at will over the summer, Shoemaker said.
Schager, the Dallas native who started three games in 2021 as Chevan Cordeiro’s understudy, has steadily come to grips with the Rainbow Warriors’ new hybrid offense.
“I think it’s really different. I think we were able to do a lot of things on offense this year,” Schager told Spectrum News. “Coach Shoe always says, ‘if you can define it, you can defend it.’ So, we’re just trying to do a whole lot of things to just kind of change it up. I think it’s definitely better than last year and we continue to get better in that and grow in this offense.”
As a true freshman, Schager went 65-for-107 (60.75%) for 615 yards. He threw for two touchdowns – both in the fourth quarter in an upset of Fresno State on Oct. 2 – and five interceptions. Four of the picks came in a loss at Nevada on Oct. 16.
Shoemaker said Schager’s game experience gives him a leg up on the others, and his arm strength is there, but to secure the position he will have to gain explosiveness so he can execute all parts of the RPO/run-and-shoot concepts.
“It’s just going to be, is he athletic enough to take advantage of some of the things we do in our offense moving forward,” Shoemaker said. “So that’s his summer, to continue to improve his foot speed, acceleration, power, things like that. The arm strength and the size (6-3) is already where it needs to be.”
Schager, who was to start in the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl before that game was canceled at the 11th hour, overcame that disappointment and rode out the turbulent transition between Todd Graham and Chang.
Schager arrived in mid-June in 2021 and had just a few weeks to acclimate before fall camp under Graham. This spring, his first in Manoa, he’s taken the time to better know some of his teammates, and especially the offensive linemen, like Eliki Tanuvasa, Ilm Manning and Micah Vanterpool. (“Those guys are freaks out there,” he said.)
Meanwhile, he’s welcomed the competition at his position and the team culture is appreciably better, he has noticed.
“The main thing is just continuing to grow,” Schager said. “I think I’ll be ready to go come fall.”
Brian McInnis covers the state's sports scene for Spectrum News Hawaii.