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Chang hoping to bring Heisman to Hawaii

8/21/2004

In paradise, on the precipice of something so wonderfully
unprecedented, yet teetering on the edge of crisis, Timmy Chang needed a
check-up.

So June Jones called Chang into his office in January. The
University of Hawaii football coach wanted to make sure Chang had let go.

More important, he wanted to make sure Chang was ready to take hold.

Jones told Chang he had never experienced anything like what the
next year held in store for him, that what had occurred in the past three games must
be a building point for what was to happen in the next five or six.

"I just wanted to make sure he understood where he stood," said Jones, who had in the past month-and-a-half pulled Chang from one game and benched him for the start of two others. "What I did happens to all quarterbacks. You've
got to be able to handle it, and he has proved he could handle it. It's
about how you respond from the negative times. I just wanted to make sure he
knew how important it was to do all the little things."

See, Chang is going to be Hawaii's first Heisman candidate.

That's some kind of crazy ambition for a kid whose team plays it
games on an island after most of the country has gone to bed. Chang, in
fact, has never seen a Hawaii highlight on ESPN.

"I always watch SportsCenter," he said. "I've never caught us. I'd
be amazed if I did."

But there is a built-in hype mechanism for Chang's long shot
candidacy. Chang is 2,218 yards from Ty Detemer's NCAA career passing record of 14,031 yards.

That couple thousand yards might make breaking the record an "if"
somewhere other than Hawaii. It is a "when" for Chang. Jones figures the
record could fall as soon as the Warriors' fifth game on Oct. 16 game at Texas-El Paso.

Chang passed for 4,199 yards last season while missing the opener
(failure to take the required amount of units brought a one-game suspension)
and parts of the final three games. So come November, Chang will most likely be passing his way to what might as well be infinity.

"I really don't think this record will ever be broken," Jones said.

With good reason. It's entirely possible no one will experience Chang's circumstances again. First, someone would need to play for a coach who likes to throw a lot. Then he needs to start as a true freshman. Then -- as Chang did his sophomore year due to a fractured wrist suffered in the third game -- he would need to get a medical waiver and have the three games played count in the stats
while not counting against eligibility.

Where Detmer took 46 games to get his mark, Chang could finish with 53 games
if Hawaii goes to a bowl.

By the time the voters are pondering their Heisman ballots, Jones plans to
have Chang pushing 16,000 yards.

Jones sees the publicity potential for his program and is already in
midseason form with the Heisman hype. Jones has definitely thought about
what it will take for Chang to make the 6,000-mile trip from Honolulu to New
York.

"I think he's got to do what I think he can do the first five weeks," Jones
said. "If he's on the tip of everybody's tongue because of that record. ...
We're on national television the final two games, and if he shoots lights
out against those two teams and we win, he's got a shot."

From that January meeting forward, Jones said, Chang has been
practicing once and twice a day and is more focused than ever.

Chang traces the change to the weeks in late November and early
December, when he was booed off the field against Alabama and being benched
for the start of a game against Boise State and the Hawaii Bowl against
Houston.

"It gave me a different aspect on what I can do to support the
team," said Chang, by all accounts a team-first character. "It was all worth
it. I really took the high road on this one. Trying to look at it from a
positive perspective. What I realized is I wasn't having fun. When I'm not
enjoying it, I'm not doing the right things. I started going out and having
fun, just relaxing."

Chad Owens, the Western Athletic Conference's leading receiver, said
teammates saw a difference.

"Being pulled and coming off the bench really helped him out a lot,"
Owens said. "All that pressure gets taken away, and he was able to come out
and relax."

Chang knows he'll need to practice that very Hawaiian attitude this
year as he's required for the next TV interview or conference call and when
he finally sees himself on SportsCenter.

It's what Jones has been prepping him for.

"He does it for a reason," Chang said. "He's putting me in the right
mindset. Putting pressure on me now is going to help me later for bigger
things to come."

Kevin Acee covers college football for the San Diego Union-Tribune.