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Oct. 12—There are reasons Alexander Bianco Jr. moved from Maui to Oahu.
The fall football season of 2021 is one of them. AJ Bianco bided his time for three seasons, recovered from injury and learned in an ultimate masterclass environment. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior has Saint Louis in a share of first place in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu football standings.
Bianco is stirring the pot, without a whole lot of words. The ingredients at his disposal are among the best in the state. Every game with Bianco at quarterback has been, as it always is for a four-time defending champion in the Open Division, loaded with expectations.
He had, arguably, his finest game on Friday, with a shot at the top seed at stake. Bianco passed for 341 yards and two touchdowns, completing 30 of 43 attempts, and using his speed to pick up key first downs in a 27-21 win over No. 5 Punahou. It was a new level of pocket awareness and bold decision-making that the ILH hadn't seen from the football /basketball standout.
"I feel good. I think, this game. We executed a lot better. I thought we had a lot more rhythm and put some drives together, " Bianco said. "We started off strong and just got to be better at finishing."
Former high school coach and current radio color commentator Arnold Martinez has seen the uptick.
"He has progressively improved each game. He is doing a great job pre-and post-snap diagnosing the coverage and taking what the defense gives them. He is more decisive now and delivers the ball with more precision on target, giving his receivers a chance to make a big play, " Martinez said.
In four games, including a season-opening loss to nationally ranked Bishop Gorman, Bianco has 1, 148 yards on 94-for-148 passing (63.5 %) with seven touchdowns and five picks. He has also rushed for 106 yards and three TDs.
There have been a select number of Crusaders quarterbacks who didn't become regular starters until senior year. That includes former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Back then, the speedy Mariota was also known for his arm strength, but mostly ran a picture-perfect read-option attack with some of the most elite mesh-point skills in the country.
"He reminds me of Marcus, his demeanor and posture in the pocket, eyes always downfield even if he is on the move, " Martinez added. "He can get the ball out quickly with good velocity. He can make all the throws, distributes the ball left, middle, right and vertically, and he has the athletic ability to extend plays or take off if he needs to."
The Ron Lee version of the four-wide, shotgun offense is a gridiron version of calculus, geometry and physics rolled into one.
"With our system, a lot of pressure is on him to pick up the reads. The receivers, they only have one read. The quarterback has to understand everybody's reads, the coverages, the pressure, so what he's done so far in four (starts ), not too shabby, " Lee said.
After more than five decades coaching the run-and-shoot, Lee has often tooled the offense to favor his quarterback's strengths. Chevan Cordeiro was an accurate passer and nimble ballcarrier. Like Bianco, he waited patiently before starting as a senior, leading Saint Louis to a state title.
Bianco has as much arm strength as possibly any of the heralded QBs in school history, maybe rivaling Mariota. Bianco also has the will and the freedom to launch those deep balls.
"He's getting better every week. He is, stats-wise, 30-for-40, that type of thing. That's not too bad. We had a couple drops, he missed a couple reads. He's consistently throwing for 300 yards per game, in his fourth game (as a starter ). What he's doing for the first year is doing a heck of a job, " Lee said. "And he's going to get better. He's got a tremendous upside because of his size and arm strength. I'm happy with his progression. He's picking up the blitzes more."
The gauntlet of life in the ILH applies to the classroom, where Bianco has a 4.0 grade-point average, and the field. When Kamehameha upset then-No. 1 Saint Louis three weeks ago, it was with a number of different looks and schemes. Evolve or dissolve is a way of life in ILH competition, so Bianco and the Crusaders offense stepped up and overcame a tough Punahou defense.
"I'm getting more comfortable with my reads, seeing the field. Everything is slowing down. Punahou switched it up really well and gave us a lot of different looks, " Bianco said. "We faced some adversity early, a good first drive (by Punahou ), and we had a good first drive, too, and I gave them the ball back. After that, we really settled in and our defense put some stops together. Heading into the half, we were moving the ball real well. First drive out of the half, we had a real nice drive and our defense really shut it down."
Then, with an uptempo offense and Bianco's pinpoint passing at a peak, the Crusaders went into game-management mode to finish the game out. A little more "elephant " smashmouth offense. Some personnel creativity with dangerous Trech Kekahuna at running back.
"I think Coach Ron does a great job of moving him around. That's a credit to his versatility, a credit to what he can do rushing or catching passes. Making plays, " Bianco said.
By 7 :30 a.m. the next day, they were back in the lab. Saturday morning's practice was earlier than usual.
"It's definitely not as hot (as later ). Also, it's nice having practice early in the morning and having the rest of the day to recover and relax, " Bianco said. "Our intermediate had their championship game, so that's why we started early. Everyone was there, 7 :30 sharp."
AJ BIANCO'S FAVORITES—Music artists : Drake, Lil Baby, NoCap.—Class : History—GPA : 4.0—Athlete : Patrick Mahomes—New life skill : Cooking. "My favorites to cook are steak and pasta. My mom taught me."—Hidden talent : "Lockdown corner in the red zone."—Did you know : AJ is originally from Maui.—For more Hawaii high school sports, visit the.