Suddenly, the piercing voice of the St. John’s public address announcer cut through the crowd: “And heeeeeeere come the Cadets! This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for!”
“Yes it is,” Luaao said quietly.
Only two weeks earlier, the Peters family moved from their tightknit community in Laie, Hawaii, to the Washington suburbs for one singular goal: to support Sol-Jay’s chances of playing major college football on the mainland. The move, roughly 4,800 miles, is an extreme example of a growing trend of elite high school football quarterbacks transferring to top national programs to get collegiate exposure by playing with — and against — top players.
It is also reflective of the recent growth of St. John’s — a private, Catholic high school in Northwest Washington — into a national athletic powerhouse. The athletic department partners with Under Armour, whose founder and CEO, Kevin Plank, is a St. John’s alum and pledged $16 million to the school in 2015. The football team, which plays an increasingly national schedule, has produced several Division I players in recent seasons and won the WCAC championship last year, its first conference title in the sport since 1989.
Sol-Jay already had offers from Michigan, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, BYU, Fresno State and Hawaii before the transfer. Still, the recruiting advantages of moving to the continental United States resonated with the family. And as with any move, it wasn’t that simple.
The 17-year-old junior quarterback, who traveled alone to D.C. in the first week of June to be in summer workouts with his new team, faced backlash for leaving from the sports-centric Laie community. And as he better positions himself from a football perspective, he and his family members are still getting used to the lifestyle and cultural changes resulting from being a long way from home.
“It is a little iffy on the success rate,” Mike Farrell, Rivals.com’s national recruiting director, said of how well top prospects perform after transferring to national powerhouses. “It is more of a buyer-beware situation and being the right type of kid and [having] the right type of support system around them.”
Farrell said that kids transferring to bigger private schools near their hometowns is nothing new, but moves like Maiava’s are “at a different level.”
There were other high-profile quarterbacks who transferred to nationally ranked teams this past offseason, including David Baldwin, a Class of 2019 prospect who left Upland (Calif.) for IMG Academy in Florida. The previous two starting quarterbacks at St. John’s also were transfers — Kevin Doyle from Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania and Kasim Hill from Gilman High in Baltimore — and they now play major college football for Arizona and Maryland, respectively.
“I’m enjoying it,” said Sol-Jay, who is related to Cadets quarterbacks coach Drew Aumavae, which is part of what drew him to the school. “I mean, it is a lot different, though, with school and football. It’s like going to college. I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest. I’m just going with the flow.”
Getting used to a new home
On Aug. 9, the Peters family, minus Sol-Jay, set forth on its 14-hour journey from Hawaii to Washington. The six tired family members each brought one bag filled with the “absolute necessities,” and they had a long layover before arriving at their final destination of Reagan National Airport. From there, they made their way to a hotel in Silver Spring, Md., before starting to search for their new home.
The family didn’t have to wait long. With help from friends, they found a two-story brick house south of Silver Spring to rent the day after they arrived. They used Craigslist to acquire a lot of free essentials instead of shipping larger items from the house they own in Hawaii. Both parents found jobs in the area.
The family is still adjusting to a new culture and Washington’s humidity, still figuring out how to navigate driving in a busy city and still learning which grocery stores are best to find spices to replicate Hawaiian meals. But despite the chaos of the move, the family appeared acclimated to its new surroundings on the last day of August, turning on a laptop in its home to watch St. John’s play in a national battle against Hoover High in Alabama.
It was the first time the family wasn’t in attendance for one of Sol-Jay’s games, and the family members gathered around a small glass table for a dinner of chili — Rosemary’s family recipe — served with a dollop of mayonnaise, a side of white rice, corn bread and monkey bread for dessert.
“I am nervous tonight,” Rosemary said as she sat on one of two couches in the living room. “It’s like a championship game every week now.”
Sol-Jay, who made national headlines after he was offered by Michigan as an eighth-grader, isn’t new to the spotlight or playing in big games. But to play in a national matchup each week has been an adjustment.
He transferred from Kahuku High, known for its football team, which is reported to have produced more than a dozen NFL players since 1970. The other high school on Oahu with a football reputation is the Saint Louis School, which has produced a pair of star quarterbacks in recent years in Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans and Tua Tagovailoa of the University of Alabama.
But the overall talent level isn’t considered as high in Hawaii as on the mainland, and the Peters family saw moving as a chance for Sol-Jay to elevate his game and increase his exposure to college recruiters. In Laie, the decision didn’t go over well with many members of the community when Sol-Jay announced it in April. Rosemary said some saw the move as “taking away their quarterback that belongs to them.”
Laie consumes a 2.1 square-mile radius of land and water on the northern shore of Oahu along Kamehameha Highway, and the community has one of the nation’s better-known congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Peters family was part of the large Polynesian population there.
“Being the tightknit community that we are, we live in the countryside and the only thing we have to do is play sports, sing and go to school,” said Russell Tai Hook, a family friend. “Anything that happens, especially with Kahuku and specifically the football team, it is community news. . . . At first, of course, we wanted him to stay and dominate over here for Kahuku.”
With so much placed on communal values in Laie, the absence of a role model and prized athlete such as Sol-Jay, as well as his immediate family, made waves.
“A lot of people were kind of upset, only because he was the all-star,” said Harrington Wa’a, a good friend of Sol-Jay’s. “I would say 75 percent of people were upset that he was leaving, but I was happy for him. I always knew he wanted to go to the NFL, so leaving would be a good opportunity for him.”
The right call
But while some may disagree with the decision, the Peters family believes it chose correctly for Sol-Jay’s future. There are times when the family misses its lives in Hawaii. Other times, Sol-Jay says, he doesn’t miss home as much as he thought he would. While he does miss having Hawaii’s pristine beaches close by, he can live without the non-air-conditioned classrooms back in Hawaii. The family isn’t certain what it will do after Sol-Jay graduates, and one of the deciding factors will be where he chooses to attend college.
St. John’s is 4-0 and has beaten nationally ranked squads in Hoover and Miami Central, and Sol-Jay has received an uptick in attention from college coaches. The Cadets most recently beat Marietta (Ga.), 21-14, this past Saturday at St. John’s, where Sol-Jay’s family again was back on the bleachers. But this time, the normal group of six expanded to nearly 20 family and friends.
Rosemary’s sister and cousins came in from Hawaii for the week, and cousins from West Virginia and friends from Michigan visited for the day. All brought their small children, who spent much of the game running back and forth along the bleachers and taking turns holding up the giant cutout of Sol-Jay’s head.
After the game, sweat still dripping down his forehead, Sol-Jay looked to the stands and spotted his crew. Hopping the fence, he was greeted with a flower lei around his neck and was engulfed with hugs by his relatives.
They all posed for photos, the children blissfully running around until it was time to leave. The family packed up their belongings and headed to the parking lot. One more week of high school football was behind them. Soon they would be on to the next.
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