- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

Most casual college football fans know little about Timmy Chang, Hawaii’s golden boy quarterback.

He plays in the BCS-bereft WAC for a team nobody would confuse with USC, Oklahoma or LSU. And most of his heroics take place while the nation sleeps, at an hour when even the omniscient “SportsCenter” eye has closed.

But sometime next month, barring injury, Chang will become the most prolific passer in college football history, moving past former BYU slinger Ty Detmer and surging onto every Heisman Trophy watch list in America.

“I’m not sure if Timmy or anybody else in Hawaii understands the magnitude of the storm that’s brewing,” Hawaii coach June Jones said last week. “Frankly, I think his quest, our run at the league title, the whole phenomenon of Hawaii football in 2004 is going to be huge.”

The leading edge of the storm makes landfall in Oahu tomorrow night, when Chang steps under center in the Warriors’ opener against Florida Atlantic trailing Detmer’s record for career passing yardage (15,031) by just 2,217. If that seems like a fairly healthy disparity, consider that Chang enters his final season averaging 320.4 passing yards a game. At that rate, the 22-year-old should pass Detmer in the Warriors’ seventh game Oct.30 against defending WAC champion Boise State.

“If I take care of the little things, put in my time in the film room, go through my progressions and value the football, then the record will follow,” Chang said at last month’s WAC media day. “And I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want the record. But I want it for my teammates, for this school and for Hawaii. … Let me tell you, man, these people deserve some recognition and love, because this state is more than just a great place to honeymoon.”

Chang’s love for his native state has been the one emotional constant during his football career. As a prep senior at football-rich Saint Louis School in Honolulu, Chang chucked 64 touchdown passes (one short of the national record) while carrying a 4.3 GPA, making every analyst’s blue-chip quarterback list. One recruiting service even named him national prep player of the year. Chang narrowed his finalists to Washington, California and Hawaii before choosing the Warriors and Jones’ offensive aerial circus.

“His mother and I wanted him to go Berkeley, see another part of the world and enjoy the college experience without the pressure of being the hometown star,” said Levi Chang, principal of Nanakuli High School outside Honolulu. “But my son wasn’t afraid of the challenge, and he wanted to show kids in Hawaii that not only could they be a D-I quarterback, which we had never really produced, but that they could be a successful D-I quarterback, and maybe even an NFL-caliber quarterback, if they stayed home. He’s extremely proud of his heritage.”

Levi describes his son’s ethnic background as a melange of Hawaiian, Chinese, Puerto Rican, Spanish and Irish. But Timmy’s heart always has been pure Hawaiian. Even when he was booed off the field late last season for erratic play and eventually benched by Jones, Chang never blamed his legion of local critics.

“I represent them, and that means much is expected,” said Chang, who came off the bench late in the first quarter of the Hawaii Bowl game against Houston and redeemed himself by passing for 475 yards and five touchdowns in a 54-48 triple-overtime victory. “Criticism is just part of being a quarterback. When you’re a lightning rod on the team, you better be able to handle the bolts.”

There certainly have been no shortage of barbs directed at Chang over the years. A lean 6-foot-2, 198-pounder, Chang has battled a slew of injuries during his career, missing all but three games of the 2001 season with an injury to his right (throwing) hand. The WAC granted him a medical redshirt for that season, though the 1,100 passing yards he accumulated in those three starts still count toward his career statistics.

Some would say that has given him an unfair advantage in his race against Detmer. And it’s true that if Chang plays in all 12 of Hawaii’s games this season, he will have played in 52 career games to Detmer’s 46.

And when Chang enters the Heisman fray later this season, which he almost certainly will, some will dismiss him and the passing record as a product of Jones’ system. Chang, who is 1,030 of 1,834 passing for 12,814 yards and 79 touchdowns, already has thrown more passes than Detmer (1,530), and he’s likely to surpass Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury (1999-2002) as the NCAA’s career leader in both attempts (1,883) and completions (1,231).

Still others will point to more dubious mark Chang is quickly approaching. With 67 interceptions, Chang trails the NCAA record established by Purdue’s Mark Hermann (1977-80) in that category by only six picks.

Despite such statistical ammunition, it will be difficult for Heisman voters to disregard the Rainbow Rifle if he rolls into Hawaii’s season-closing Big Ten double-dip (vs. Northwestern and Michigan State) pushing 16,000 career passing yards — especially if the Warriors arrive at those duels with eight or nine victories and in the thick of the WAC title race. That’s a distinct possibility, because Hawaii returns 10 offensive starters from a team that averaged nearly 500 yards of offense last season en route to a 9-5 finish that included a victory over Alabama (37-29).

“We’re on national television for those final two games,” Jones said of the home dates with the Wildcats on Nov.27 and the Spartans on Dec.4. “If he shoots lights out against those two teams and we win, he’s got a shot. Remember, the Heisman ceremony is the very next week.”

Then, of course, there’s the issue of a possible NFL future. Despite his solid arm strength, quickness and vision, pro scouts are wary of his size, durability, relatively low completion percentage (56.2) and suspect touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.2-1). And the football annals are loaded with college stat stuffers-turned-pedestrian pros.

“I think he feels a sense of urgency in that regard, because he’s approaching this season with a different level of maturity,” Levi said of his son, who still lives at home. “I think he understands that if he doesn’t take full advantage of this opportunity, he’ll have to join the real world and go to work for the next 40 years like the rest of us.”

NFL Draft Blitz currently lists Chang as the 15th-ranked quarterback in this class, though it’s difficult to imagine him not earning a handful of tryout invitations.

“Right now, all of it seems absurd — the record, the Heisman, the NFL. I can’t believe I’m talking about any of that stuff,” Chang said. “You know, no matter what happens this year, it’s already been a dream come true.”

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