@Jay_4QB was a high school star in Hawaii. His family moved 4,800 miles to help his college chances.
St. John's quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava and his family moved 4,800 miles from Hawaii to the D.C. suburbs. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
Rosemary Maiava-Peters took out her cellphone, opened the Facebook app and started a live stream for family members back in Hawaii. She pointed it in the direction of her eldest son, Sol-Jay Maiava, the home team’s starting quarterback. Sitting on the metal bleachers at St. John’s College High School during the last Saturday of August, Rosemary shifted between watching the Cadets’ season opener and keeping tabs on her four youngest children, who were busy munching away on Hawaiian snacks. Rosemary’s husband Luaao Peters sat beside them, smiling wide as he held a large cutout of Sol-Jay’s head. 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 Maiava family moved from their tightknit community in Laie, Hawaii to the Washington, D.C. 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 Washington — into a national athletics powerhouse. The athletic department partners with Under Armour, whose founder and CEO, Kevin Plank, is a St. John’s alum who 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 U.S. 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. the first week of June to be in summer workouts with his new team, faced backlash for leaving his hometown 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 very long way from home. “It is a little iffy on the success rate,” Mike Farrell, Rivals.com 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 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 to attend faraway high school powerhouses is “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 last two starting quarterbacks at St. John's were also transfers — Kevin Doyle from Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania, and Kasim Hill from Gilman High in Baltimore — and both now play major college football for Arizona and Maryland, respectively. “I'm enjoying it,” said Maiava, who is related to Cadets quarterback 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.”
Sol-Jay Maiava is considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the Class of 2020. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
Getting used to new surroundings On Aug. 9, the Maiava family, minus Sol-Jay, set forth on its 14-hour journey from Hawaii to D.C. The six tired family members each brought one bag filled with the “absolute necessities,” and 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 still own in Hawaii. Both parents found jobs in the D.C.-area. The family is still adjusting to a new culture and D.C.’s humidity, figuring out how to navigate driving in a busy city, and learning which grocery stores are best to find spices to replicate Hawaiian meals. But despite all the chaos of the move, the family appeared acclimated to its new surrounding on the last day of August, turning on a laptop in their home to watch St. John’s play in a national battle against Hoover High School in Alabama. It was the first time the family wasn’t in attendance for one of Sol-Jay’s games, and they 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 Maiava poses for a photo with several members of his family.
(Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
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 School, 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 Maiava family saw moving as a chance for Sol-Jay to elevate his game and increase his exposure to college recruiters. Back 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 the 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 Maiava 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 of the Maiavas. “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 like 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.”
Sol-Jay Maiava talks with St. John’s quarterbacks coach Drew Aumavae, who is a family relative of his. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
The right call But while some may have some disagreements about the decision, the Maiavas believe they chose correctly for their son's future. There are times when the family misses their lives in Hawaii. Other times, Sol-Jay says, he doesn’t miss home as much as he thought. 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 Sol-Jay chooses to attend college. St. John’s is 4-0 this season, beating nationally ranked squads in Hoover (Ala.) and Miami Central (Fla.), and Sol-Jay has received an uptick in attention from college coaches. The Cadets most recently beat Marietta (Ga.) last Saturday at St. John’s, 21-14, where Sol-Jay’s family was once again back on the metal bleachers. But this time, their normal group of six amassed 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 took 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.
Soren Peters wears his brother's helmet after St. John's beat Georgia’s Marietta High School last Saturday. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)