The beautiful islands of Hawaii are unique for many reasons. These chains of tropical wonderlands provide the world with some of the most illustrious sights and sounds of life near the water. People come from all over the globe to share in Hawaii's unmatched landscape and experience.
The islands are known for many things. From east to west, Hawaii is the widest state in the country of America. The land above sea level are actually the peaks of what is the largest mountain range on the planet. It is home to, Kilauea, the world's most active volcano. And it is the source of some of the world's tropical commercial resources.
But what makes Hawaii a special place, from many who visit there, are the people, and the unique culture and the history they hold.
Most Hawaiians are descendants of Polynesians who migrated to the island in two ways: the first from the Marquesas Islands, around AD 400; the second from Tahiti right around the 9th or 10th century. Coming from a Polynesian background, especially from the Tahiti side, Hawaiians brought over religious practices native to their Pacific background. Hawaiian religion both is polytheistic and animistic, which means they believe in many gods and goddesses, which often comes in the form of objects such as animals, the waves, the sky, etc.
In Hawaiian religion there are four prominent deities: Kāne, Kū, Lono and Kanaloa. Each of the four represents control of an aspect of this life and the next. As a collective, they are creators, protectors, ones who provide and ones who shape the future. As stories tell us, each has done its part to get the islands, the people and the world to where it is today.
Underneath the main four gods are what some would classify as those born of legend. There are myths and lores of legends of the island that give steps of faith to what they believe. For example, there's Pele, goddess of volcanos. Her volcano powers came to be known during a bad break-up with lover. As he came looking for her, she answered him with flowing lava and the shaking of the Earth. Kuula, god of fishermen brings luck to those who seek a good catch. And Laka, the goddess of hula, who brings prosperity to the flowers and forests.
Like its native people, the University of Hawaii has its own legends when it comes to football. Instead of names like Pele, Kuula and Laka, UH has Chang, Moniz and Brennan. Not in the sense that these players are to be worshiped like gods, but similar in the sense that legends are told about them. From 2000-2004, Timmy Chang threw for 17,072 passing yards as the most prolific passer in island history. In 2010, Bryant Moniz threw for 560 passing yards in one game against San Jose State. And in 2006, Colt Brennan threw for 58 touchdowns in a single season, a record that stands across all of college football still today. Anyone who calls themselves a fan or follower of the Rainbow Warriors knows these names and the things they've done for the program.
But there's another story currently taking form off the mainland on those islands that could very well shape up to be a legend of its own.
That story is the one of Cole McDonald.
Off nothing more than the eye test, McDonald looks like a subject of a story worth telling. Standing at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, his long blonde dreadlocks immediate give away his native California roots, and the dark eye black underneath his face mask gives him a warrior's appearance.
As hard as it is to believe that a 6-foot-4 high schooler could be overlooked, McDonald was. During his high school career at Sonora High School in La Habra, California, McDonald was just a two-star recruit. His best statistical days came from his senior season, mainly because that's where most of his playing time came to pass. Young in experience and accolades, McDonald had just one offer out of high school: Hawaii -- the place he was destined to be.
After redshirting in 2016, McDonald was a backup in 2017. But the 2018 season was his coming out party, if you will. In the team's season opener versus Colorado State, McDonald amassed over 500 total yards with five total touchdowns. McDonald was one of the top passers in the country last season with 24 touchdowns and just two interceptions six games into the year -- his first six games as a full-time starter. After dealing with some injury, McDonald finished the year with 36 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions with 3,875 passing yards.
McDonald is still young, but he's unique in many ways. His style is irreplaceable, and the start of his career mirrors that of the legends of the Rainbow Warriors program that came before him. But though those who came before him brought great stories to the islands, they didn't have similar success at the next level.
Can McDonald be different? Let's take a look.
Play No. 1: The Arm
There's always the narrative that the bigger the quarterback the bigger the arm -- more mass on your body means a higher potential for muscle into throws. Sometimes that's the case, but not always. For the 6-foot-4 McDonald, it certainly seems like it. McDonald's tall stature not only has a strong arm but his height seems to let him put good trajectory on the ball for longer passes, too.
It also just seems effortless for McDonald to get the ball 50 or so yards down the field. In the two clips above, it terms of the arm strength, it appeared to be nothing more than a flick of the wrist. McDonald doesn't look like he's putting his full body into throws or stressing how hard he has to throw it. It looks like it comes pretty easy to him.
Deep ball potential is where McDonald separates himself from successful Hawaii quarterbacks of the past. They all had their success within their systems, and even though they did hit on some deep passes every now and then, as every quarterback must, it did not seem as much in their wheelhouse as it does for McDonald. There are a lot of things he has to work on (we'll get to those), but when it comes to natural arm talent, McDonald certainly seems to stand out among Hawaii's past greats.
Play No 2: The Accuracy
When he remains controlled compact (which is not always a guarantee, unfortunately), McDonald can be accurate with his passes. He's definitely a rhythm kind of thrower, which is very common for a quarterback in the "run and shoot" offense that is indigenous to Hawaii's program. In the run and shoot scheme, the field is spread out wide with four or five receiving options, offensive lines are left to fend for themselves and the ball comes out quick.
When McDonald can stay within the timing of the offense, he can put some passes right on the money. Hawaii's receiving options are pretty fast, so to have good chemistry with them is tough to keep consistent. I wouldn't say McDonald is consistent (we'll get to that in a second), but he does display the ability to be, if certain other parts of his game were cleaned up more.
Play No. 3: A Problematic Throwing Motion (The Roots)
McDonald has one of the strangest throwing motions you'll see in college football. It's almost like a wheel motion, but the arm also goes out and to the side. This arm path from the beginning of his motion to the end is erratic, and because of that it is problematic. There is limited control in how McDonald throws the ball, and with less consistency in how he throws the ball there is less consistency in where it goes.
When we as scouts or even when coaches themselves talk about changing a player's throwing motion, it's not because they are sticklers for the rules and just want guy to change to conform to their ways. It's because how they want you to throw is the most efficient way to do it.
In a preferred throwing motion, a quarertback would keep the ball high right around shoulder level while they're scanning the field. Then when it's time to throw, the ideal motion would be to pull the ball back still at an elevated level with a quick release. It's suppose to be a pretty quick process. The quicker you can get the ball out the better chance you have at hitting a throwing window in time, and the more compact and controlled the motion is, the less that can go wrong. Once you start adding elongated motions and hitches, that's when problems can arise.
Play No. 4: What Worries Me (The Results)
Sometimes guys have unique styles of throwing but they make it work. Take Philip Rivers for example. His shotgun-type throwing motion is certainly unorthodox, but he makes it work consistently with accuracy and arm strength, so there's no need to change it too much.
For McDonald, his motion is a problem in a few ways, and it hurts him quite a bit. In the first clip above, McDonald's motion was a contributing factor for the ball not going where he wanted it to.
Unfortunately McDonald's throwing motion reminds me of Tim Tebow's. When he winds up to throw the ball, he pulls it all the way down near his hip and then wheels it up and through to complete the throw. That is so much extra motion, and as stated before, the more motion you have the more can go wrong -- and too often does for McDonald.
When you have an obscure throwing motion, the little things that should be easy become difficult -- and why McDonald's completion percentage is below 60 percent.
The play above is a simple throw, but due to McDonald's elongated throwing motion and how he wheels his arm around to make passes, combining that with him falling away in a different direction changed where he released that ball and was why it sailed on him. I saw this far too much in his tape.
Coaches and general managers always covet the players with the big arms. After all, having a player who can make all the throws is something you can't teach. However, people fail to mention that the bigger the arm is the more technical they have to be, because big arms don't just mean big pay offs, they can also mean big problems, too, if they don't have clean mechanics.
This last play above is the perfect example of why McDonald needs work. In the previous plays, you could make an argument that some of those misses were timing related. But the play above was McDonald in his natural state. He was scrambling, the pocket was broken and he was just running off instinct. That throw was nothing more than McDonald throwing that pass exactly how his brain told him to with no thought of technique. It was a natural throw, and it wasn't pretty.
Play No. 5: Pocket Presence & Progressions
Speaking of natural, and I'm going to end on a positive here, McDonald's pocket presence was awesome in just his first year as a starter. McDonald's technique with his feet, his strong base, how he was always shuffling around the pocket and his sixth sense for pressure behind and around him was really advanced for a redshirt sophomore.
And that's honestly a great way to describe McDonald. He has so much of what you like that you can't teach. He has the arm, the instincts as a quarterback above the shoulders with pressure, the ability to go through progressions and feel a pocket, and what brings it all together is his confidence. This is a confident young man who isn't afraid to go out and break a record each week.
What McDonald needs to improve on are things that, if left unchecked, will kill his potential NFL career before it even begins. He cannot succeed at a consistent enough level with that throwing motion the way it is. He just does not put the ball where it needs to go enough, as is. But the good thing is that those flaws are ones that, in theory, can be corrected. If he can clean up how he throws the football and appear comfortable with it, when it's all said and done, McDonald could have himself a seat next to the Rainbow Warrior legends who came before him, and perhaps an even better career in the next life -- the NFL.