Sagapolutele finding his rhythm as a UH QB

Feb. 6—As the great-great-grandson of legendary musician "Aunty Genoa" Keawe, Hawaii quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele knows about rhythm.

And it is the rhythm of his footwork — a key base in the mechanics of passing a football — that has lifted Sagapolutele into the heat of the quarterback competition during the Rainbow Warriors' spring training.

"I'm out here having fun," Sagapolutele said after Monday's' fifth spring practice at the Ching Complex. "Micah (Alejado), (Brayden) Schager and Jake (Farrell) are great teammates. We love to come out here and compete against one another. They make practice more fun. We're all competing and getting better. That's what makes it fun for me."

Sagapolutele, a 2023 Punahou School graduate who redshirted as a UH freshman last season, has worked on improving his accuracy. He targets a receiver's "UTC" — underneath the chin — during passing drills, post-practice workouts, and sessions with his brother, Campbell High quarterback Jaron-Keawe Sagapolutele.

His emphasis is on footwork and "being in rhythm."

"The rhythm," UH coach Timmy Chang said of the bouncing movements before throws, "helps with the timing."

Sagapolutele said he first learned of a passer's rhythm from Cayman Shutter, a former UH quarterback.

"What I tried to articulate to him was the difference between rhythm and tempo," said Shutter, who was the pass-game coordinator when Sagapolutele attended Punahou School. "Whenever you move your feet as a quarterback, you want to do it in rhythm. You can speed up or slow down the tempo of your feet, but the rhythm should always be a part of it."

Shutter often uses clapping to illustrate the difference between tempo and rhythm.

"The way I would demonstrate is clap my hands, and then I would say, 'This is rhythm,'" Shutter said. "There's a clear rhythm to my clapping. And then I would speed up the tempo, but I'd maintain that rhythm."

Shutter added: "You can speed up and slow down your tempo, but all the while you have to be able to maintain the rhythm. That's what gets you to the point where — even in a shaky pocket or if there's pressure and you have to make an adjustment — you're still ready to throw with some sort of timing. And you don't get all out of whack by losing rhythm in your footwork."

Quarterbacks often are said to have a clock in their head. "What really what you're doing with your feet is you're kind of like out-sourcing that clock aspect to your feet," Shutter said. "And making it so your upper half can be calm and looking downfield while your lower half is maintaining the timing and rhythm of it all."

Sagapolutele also relies on a grip he picked up from an uncle, Lefa Lauti, a former Waipahu High quarterback. "He taught me about the hand placement on the ball," said Sagapolutele, who learned the grip when he was 6. "It wasn't exactly the same as his, but it was to where I was comfortable. ... The way it comes off your hand, it should make the tip of your (index) finger hurt a little bit. And when you feel it and hear it ripping against the football, it's satisfying."

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