October 7, 2019 — Vinny Passas will never resort to posting “Help Wanted” flyers on the bulletin boards at Saint Louis School in order to find his next varsity quarterback. Generating interest for one of the most coveted jobs in American high school football — one formerly held by Tua Tagovailoa, Marcus Mariota, Jeremiah Masoli, Jason Gesser, and Timmy Chang — has never been the problem.
Weeding out the competition? That’s a different story.
“We’ve had 26 quarterbacks leave our program the last four years because they can’t beat a guy or financially they couldn’t afford it,” said Passas, who has spent the last 43 years coaching quarterbacks at the small, private, all-boys school in Honolulu and mentoring thousands of young, aspiring signal-callers at his weekly “Get Better” camps.
There is a certain level of immortality reserved for quarterbacks who win a state championship at Saint Louis. But merely winning the job guarantees some amount of local heroism, too, and Passas offers the highest praise to “the guys who hang in there and tough it out and compete.”
Washington State’s latest quarterback commit, Saint Louis senior Jayden de Laura, belongs to both clubs. De Laura officially pledged to the Cougars last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after WSU running backs coach Eric Mele stopped by a Crusaders practice to put a set of eyes on the three-star quarterback before offering him.
“It just felt like the right (program) for me because of what they’ve been doing year after year,” de Laura told The Spokesman-Review via direct message. “They way they produced and groomed their quarterbacks really caught my eye. I decided to commit so quickly because I knew that Washington State was where I wanted to be for quite a while now.”
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“If they had a quarterback that threw nine touchdowns in one game,” said Passas, referencing Anthony Gordon’s record-breaking performance for the Cougars against UCLA two weeks ago, “I think he’s the guy that can (throw) 10 touchdowns in one game.
“First of all, he’s accurate, I think he’s got arm strength,” Passas added. “He’s got this moxie about him that complements what he’s doing. I think his biggest attribute is he can process information really fast and well. Where you can just tell him one time, this is what you’re going to do and then he’ll process it right now. You don’t have to repeat yourself over and over again. I think he does a great job of processing information and making good decisions.”
If starting QBs at Saint Louis are local heroes, and state champions are immortals, what label should be bestowed on a player who finishes his Crusaders career without losing a game?
That is something neither Mariota nor Tagovailoa achieved while running the show for Saint Louis, but de Laura is unbeaten in 19 starts after leading the Crusaders to the HHSAA Division I championship last season — in which Saint Louis took down Millilani and current UCF starting QB Dillon Gabriel — and he has them off and running in 2019, with an 8-0 record.
Before Gabriel, another Passas pupil, committed to UCF, he was being strongly pursued by the University of Georgia. Now the Bulldogs want more intel on de Laura, who had offers from BYU, Hawaii, San Diego State and Western Kentucky before getting his first Power Five offer from Washington State, and Georgia plans to send a contingent to the islands in a few weeks. De Laura insists, however, “I am 100% committed to Washington State University.”
In eighth grade, de Laura started attending the inexpensive, all-inclusive, QB-specific camps where Passas has uncovered generational talents such as Mariota, the former Heisman Trophy winner with the Oregon Ducks who is now starting in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans; Tagovailoa, the national championship-winning QB at Alabama who is expected to be a first-round selection in the next NFL draft, and many others.
Passas sees traces of the Alabama starter in Saint Louis’ latest QB standout — “He’s got a little bit of risk-taker inside of him, like Tua Tagovailoa has,” the coach said — and de Laura’s diligent work ethic reminds him of Mariota.
“They’re always trying to be the first guy to finish in sprints,” Passas said, “and they love to compete and just lead by example kind of guy.”
De Laura has not spent extensive time working with Mariota or Tagovailoa, but he insists that both QBs “played a big role for me” and there is no debating their impact on an entire generation of young Hawaiian athletes.
But, de Laura’s quarterback profile may be more reminiscent of a player Passas taught 20 years ago.
“He’s a spitting image of Jason Gesser, where they make plays, they do a great job, they’re great leaders, they’re great competitors,” Passas said, referring to Washington State’s 2002 Pac-10 co-offensive player of the year. “He’s already a legendary guy here and he can be like Jason Gesser going through his high school career and never losing a game. He has that opportunity and that challenge in front of him.”
Fittingly, de Laura’s father and Gesser were high school rivals, as well, both in football and basketball.
Mitchell Quinn, a walk-on wide receiver for the Cougars and former Saint Louis Crusader, has been instrumental in de Laura’s recruitment, and the QB has also exchanged messages with Alaka’i Gilman, a WSU safety commit who plays for Saint Louis’ top rival, Punahou. Those two also played together at 7-on-7 tournaments in Nevada and Florida.
“When I committed, (Gilman) was one of the first people that I told,” de Laura said.
De Laura and Gilman’s high school teams clashed last month at Aloha Stadium. Saint Louis beat Punahou 25-19 in a game Passas said displayed the development and maturity of his senior QB. The Crusaders fumbled five times, four times in the red zone, but de Laura constantly offered words of encouragement.
“Marcus could never say anything bad about you or anything bad about anyone,” Passas said. “He’d never get on anyone and Jayden, he’ll get on you, he’ll get in your face to push guys.
“But I think the thing they all have, the similarity,” Passas said, speaking of the Mariotas, Tagovailoas, Gessers, Masolis and Changs, “they make the people around them better. And I know Jayden, he’s going to make the people around him better.”