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NO.4 USC VS. HAWAII Saturday at the Coliseum, 1 p.m.,
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Lost in Paradise

Hawaii's Chang is passing at a record clip, not that anyone's noticing

September 12, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

If Timmy Chang passes for 15,000 yards playing half his games on an island in the middle of the Pacific, will anyone pay attention?

Forget East Coast bias. We're talking mainland bias.

Kickoff for many of Hawaii's home games is around midnight in the East, so no one at the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., is scrambling to get the highlights on the air when Chang slings the ball for 400 yards for Coach June Jones, one of the last practitioners of the run-and-shoot offense.

With two seasons left in his college career, Chang already has thrown for 8,615 yards, putting him on track to break Ty Detmer's NCAA record of 15,031.

And this week, people will be watching.

Hawaii plays fourth-ranked USC on Saturday at the Coliseum, and if Chang can put up numbers against the Trojan defense, it will be his best showcase yet.

Although Hawaii made a school-record five appearances on national television last season, Chang has seen only one highlight of himself on ESPN, last season against Fresno State.

"It was a little swing pass to the running back and I threw it a little late," he said. "By the time he caught it, the [defensive back] was right there, and he really lit up my running back. So it was for a bad thing, rather than a good thing."

This week?

"I hope I'm not going to make the top-10 nominees for bad things. Just good things," he said.

"USC is awesome. They're big and strong and fast and they have such a great defense, it's going to be very challenging."

Challenging is a word some would use for Hawaii's Heisman Trophy campaign for Chang.

Chang is nowhere to be seen on Heisman-watch short lists, which include such players as Anthony Davis of Wisconsin, Chris Perry of Michigan, Philip Rivers of North Carolina State, Roy Williams of Texas, Mike Williams of USC and Brock Berlin and Frank Gore of Miami.

One problem is Chang's 50-to-47 touchdown-to-interception ratio. (He threw four interceptions twice last season, against Alabama and San Diego State.)

And Chang wasn't even the first-team quarterback on the All-Western Athletic Conference team last season, finishing second to Boise State's Ryan Dinwiddie.

But by starting a campaign this season for a candidacy that probably will be more legitimate next season, Hawaii is trying to break early with a longshot.

"As I told him, I'm the one pumping him for that spot because I really think he's going to become the all-time passing leader in the history of college football if he stays healthy for two years," Jones said.

To pass Detmer, Chang needs to average a little more than 3,200 yards the next two seasons after passing for 4,474 last year.

"From that standpoint, I think, realistically, he does have a chance to be a Heisman Trophy winner," Jones said. "Does it put pressure on him? Yeah, it does. It puts a lot of pressure on him. But it's like I told him: If he feels any pressure right now from that, wait until he becomes an NFL quarterback. Then you'll feel pressure."

Chang shrugs it off.

"I'm not too worried about the hype," he said.

There are plenty of eyes on him in Hawaii. He is the third generation of his family to live in the islands and his heritage is a tropical cocktail of Chinese, Hawaiian, English, Irish and Spanish.

Asian American publications look to him as a role model and NFL hope.

"Actually I have people from the mainland, they refer to me as the Asian quarterback. Very cool," Chang said. "I'm a minority, and any sense I can be a role model in is a good thing for kids. Now they can dream big.

"I like to represent, of course, my Hawaiian side. There's a lot of ethnicity. It's like a melting pot out here."

Lately, it also has been a breeding ground for quarterbacks. Chang's predecessor at Honolulu's St. Louis School was former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser.

"Gesser was one of those guys I looked up to. I basically copied his style, mimicked his style," Chang said. "He has a quick release. And sometimes he makes plays where he throws it on the money when he's flying around and throws off his back foot. I know that's not good, but at times you have to."

Ron Lee, who coaches receivers at Hawaii, was offensive coordinator at St. Louis when both quarterbacks were there.

"They're both very competitive," Lee said. "I think Jason was just a real blue-collar kind of quarterback who fought and battled and ran when he had to and could throw the ball too, obviously.

"Timmy doesn't run the ball, but he has a lot quicker release than Jason. They're both very accurate.

"Timmy was really frail in high school, barely 160 pounds and 6 feet, but really, really smart and really understood the game for a young guy. He's gotten better and worked hard in the off-season. Now he's 6-2, 205, 210. He has that quick release and he's smart, those are things that make up for lack of arm strength."

Chang will be making his season debut Saturday after missing Hawaii's victory over Appalachian State as a penalty for failing to meet the WAC's six-credit minimum last season because of an incomplete class.

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