Oct. 26—They were football teammates and best friends since second grade, then for four years at Saint Louis School, and then three seasons at the University of Hawaii.
They were football teammates and best friends since second grade, then for four years at Saint Louis School, and then three seasons at the University of Hawaii.
But a few days after UH's regular-season finale in 2021, quarterback Chevan Cordeiro decided to enter the transfer portal. Wideout Jonah Panoke opted to remain a Rainbow Warrior.
This Saturday, in what is fittingly part of UH's homecoming week, Cordeiro, in his second season as San Jose State's starting quarterback, will play his first game in Hawaii since his departure.
"I don't know yet what's going to happen or how I'm going to feel, " Cordeiro said. "I've talked to (SJSU ) Coach (Brent ) Brennan and he kind of harped on worrying about the coaching and focusing on the game plan. And let all the outside noise ... just ignore it."
But it was Cordeiro's exit that reshaped the Rainbow Warriors' culture. In July, Cordeiro told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, he had lost the joy of football during then-head coach Todd Graham's demanding leadership. Cordeiro, a two-time UH captain, was the most prominent of the 19 players who left the program. Graham resigned on Jan. 14, 2022. Eight days later, former record-setting quarterback Timmy Chang was named the Warriors' head coach.
"All the people who left had to leave for everything to change, " Cordeiro said on Wednesday. "We didn't expect anyone to follow us. It was more of a 'hopefully they make a coaching change and everyone who stays finds the love of the game again.' Hopefully, that worked for the people who stayed."
Panoke said he decided to remain for "family reasons." Panoke and his fiancee are parents to 8-and 4-year-old sons and a 2-year-old daughter. "With me having my family here, it would have been hard to transfer at that time, " Panoke said.
During the search for Graham's replacement, UH sports media relations director Derek Inouchi promoted the phrase "Braddahhood " to celebrate the players who remained to rebuild the program.
"It was rough during that time, " Panoke said. "We had guys transferring. We didn't have a coach at the time. With the 'Braddahhood, ' it was meant to stay together. We didn't have a clear vision of our football future or who the coach would be or who would take Chev's spot. It was mostly about unity and staying together and knowing we had each other's back."
Panoke lauded Chang's hiring.
"Luckily, I stayed, " Panoke said. "We got blessed with these coaches. I'm happy where I'm at right now."
With the Spartans, Cordeiro embraced his independence. He signed up for a Costco membership, learned to cook, and did his own laundry. "All the small things I didn't do when I was living in Hawaii because I was living with my parents, " Cordeiro said.
And, Cordeiro has admitted, he regained the love of the sport.
He ascended to the top of the depth chart in the spring of 2021, earning a leadership role. "I was trying to get him to be a vocal leader, " running back Kairee Robinson said. "I always push him to give a talk at the end of practices."
While claiming to be a lead-by-example player, Cordeiro conceded, "I just had to be more vocal. Everyone tells me that they're going to follow me. With one word I say, they'll listen. I really took that in, and started being more vocal, whether it's on the sideline, in the huddle before we go out on the field, all the small things."
Despite a series of injuries, Panoke has enjoyed playing for Chang, particularly in a run-and-shoot offense that has many elements of Saint Louis' schemes. Panoke, who has another season of eligibility after this year, already has earned a degree in sports business. He has made several contacts that could lead to employment after his football career ends. He is thankful to his fiancee who allows him to "live out my (football ) dream." He said his sons tell their friends that he is a Warrior. "It's a good feeling to have my kids go to games, " Panoke said.
He also supports the players—his friends—who continued their careers at others schools.
"It's good everyone found a home, and they're succeeding where they're at now, " Panoke said. "Darius (Muasau ) is doing well (at UCLA ). Chev is doing great. I miss all the boys together, but we just cherish the memories we made. We're happy for one another and everyone who moved on."
Cordeiro also looks forward to playing on a familiar field, reuniting with former teammates, and eating poke and his father's special meal of steak and beans.
"I hope it's a loud crowd, " Cordeiro said. "I hope there's a lot of fans there. I don't know if they're going to boo me or whatever. Because at the end of the day, I'm just going to block it out. I'm going to be focused on my game and what I need to do to get my team in the right spot to win."