Moniz goes from delivering pizzas to TDs

What does it mean to find yourself last on the depth chart?

Apparently it meant nothing to Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz.

The prolific Warriors passer has climbed from the depth chart doldrums not once, but twice in his football career. Now, improbably, he finds himself leading the top-ranked passing offense in the country going into a huge WAC showdown with No. 19 Nevada on Saturday.

When asked how he was able to move up not once, but twice, Moniz said, “I never really thought about it that way before. Both times it just ended up working out for me.”

His passion, worth ethic, dedication and arm had something to do with that -- even if those intangibles meant little to college recruiters. Moniz started playing quarterback in high school, mostly because of the arm strength he built up playing baseball.

He put up big numbers passing in high school, but he was slow and short at just 6 feet tall. He tried getting noticed, sending out video highlights, going to combines at Oregon and Oregon State, going to a camp at California. But there was no interest. Determined to continue his football career, Moniz followed a friend to Fresno City College in California.

When he arrived, he was last on the depth chart, but quickly worked his way up to becoming the starter. Moniz threw for 2,268 yards and 18 touchdowns his first year there in 2007. But his girlfriend got pregnant, and the two decided to come back home to Hawaii to raise their daughter.

Moniz refused to give up on football. He went to a community college for a time so he could be eligible to walk on at Hawaii. Moniz quickly found himself sixth on the depth chart when he arrived last January, but that was fine with him.

“I knew what my chances were,” he said. “It was for the love of the game that kept me playing. It didn’t matter if I was last string or first string, I just wanted to play. I was a fan on the field watching Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares. It was just really cool to be out here with all the guys.”

Salas, who ranks second nationally with 126.2 receiving yards per game, saw a spark in Moniz right away.

“Just catching balls from him, running routes, I would always compliment him on his tight spirals,” Salas said. “He put it right on the money. We knew he was going to be good, but we had no idea he was going to be this good.”

Since Moniz had to pay his own way at Hawaii, he took a job delivering pizzas to make money. He would essentially go to practice in the morning, go to class, do homework, go to meetings, go to work, come home, play with his daughter and go to bed. All the while, he found himself moving up the depth chart thanks to his talent, but also his ability to quickly pick up a complicated offense.

Injuries to starting quarterback Greg Alexander and backup Brent Rausch vaulted him to starting quarterback early last season. Moniz ended up starting eight of the final nine games, throwing for 300-plus yards in four of his last seven starts. He kept working, renting surfboards to tourists on Waikiki Beach this past summer. Moniz said he finally got on scholarship this semester.

Now, he feels as comfortable as ever leading the offense, and it shows. Hawaii leads the nation in passing offense, averaging 422 yards a game. Moniz leads the nation in passing, with an average of 374 yards a game. He has passed for over 300 yards in five straight games, and has 18 touchdown passes to just four interceptions.

His receivers have been stellar, too. In addition to Salas, Pilares is fourth in the nation in receiving yards, averaging 121 yards a game.

“They worked real hard together over the summer,” Hawaii coach Greg McMackin said. “We’re on the same page now. Bryant is reading their body language. He knows before their break what they’re going to do by their body language and they’re deep into the package. They’re clicking on all cylinders.”

Hawaii is traditionally a prolific passing team, so it is nothing new for Nevada to defend. The Wolf Pack have had their share of problems against the Warriors, going 2-3 in the last five meetings, and giving up an average of 375 yards passing a game.

Coach Chris Ault says, “They’re doing a nice job mixing their runs with their shovel pass in there. Most important for us, we’ve got to play steady, good, hard-nosed football and keep things in front of us.”

Limiting the big play is going to be huge, too. Hawaii has a whopping 32 plays of 25-plus yards. That obviously is a credit to Moniz and how far he has come in such a short period of time.

“When you’re a walk-on, you have a whole different attitude compared to guys on scholarship,” Moniz said. “You feel you have to prove something to rest of the guys and prove yourself as a player. It helped keep my fire going as far as trying to work hard. I would show everybody I could play ball.”