The last time Wyoming and Hawaii faced off, Kolney Cassel was dressed in Cole McDonald’s No. 13 jersey for the Rainbow Warriors and taking pregame reps on the Aloha Stadium turf.
It was all an effort by former UH coach Nick Rolovich to disguise his team’s quarterback that fateful day on Oct. 6, 2018: Chevan Cordeiro, a true freshman making his college debut.
Hawaii prevailed 17-13 to reclaim the Paniolo Trophy that comes with the rivalry between the Rainbow Warriors and Cowboys. After completing 19 of his 29 passes for two touchdowns and an interception, including the game-winning score to JoJo Ward with 1:26 remaining, Cordeiro earned his first victory as a starting quarterback for Hawaii. The ‘Bows still have yet to lose a game that he’s started, going 5-0 in that stretch, including Saturday’s 34-19 win over Fresno State to begin the Todd Graham era.
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Come Friday when Wyoming and Hawaii meet again for the first time since, Cordeiro’s meaning to his team is far from a secret. Since Graham got the UH job in January, he’s continued to speak glowingly about the redshirt sophomore. When the team started practicing again after the 2020 season became official in September, Graham asked Cordeiro to stand up in front of the team before introducing the Kalihi kid as the team’s unquestioned leader.
“I thought Chevan played really well in doing the things that we’re asking him to do. He’s got dynamic talent. He can do a lot of things and I thought he had a stellar first game. He actually broke the rock after the game and I think we got a leader. I think this is his team and I’m gonna enjoy watching him progress because he’s just getting started,” Graham said.
Cordeiro’s task on Friday is to guide the program to its first win in Laramie since 1991. The Rainbow Warriors came close the last time they were there in 2017, but fell 28-21 in overtime. As the ‘Bows slogged through a disappointing 3-9 campaign that season, Cordeiro simultaneously became a beacon of hope for many local fans. Cordeiro was a senior at Saint Louis at the time and led the Crusaders to a 10-0 season, including a thrilling 31-28 win over Kahuku in the state championship game at Aloha Stadium.
Cordeiro committed to UH during the summer of 2017, which was before he even started a game at Saint Louis. Even after garnering interest from other programs during a prolific senior season in which he passed for 3,130 yards and 29 touchdowns and won a handful of state player of the year awards, he never deviated from his pledge. In turn, many local fans remained committed to him and clamored for his playing time at various points in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, even as McDonald was building on a college career that would make him a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Cold weather, short rest and a stingy Wyoming defense will present challenges to the team, but the even-keeled Cordeiro says the ‘Bows will adjust to whatever is thrown their way.
“If they give us the pass, then we’re gonna pass. If they give us the run, then we’re gonna run. We’re just gonna adapt to what they’re gonna give us,” Cordeiro says of Friday’s matchup, which will be televised nationally on FS1 at 3:45 p.m. HST. “They might change their looks, but we’re ready. Coach (GJ) Kinne, coach Bo (Graham), all the offensive staff, they’re doing a great job as a team, we’re practicing hard and getting ready.”
Following their win at Fresno State on Saturday, the Rainbow Warriors headed to Denver and bubbled up in Colorado for the week before heading to Wyoming. Heavy snow had altered practice plans for the team multiple times early in the week, leading to adjustments such as performing walkthroughs inside the hotel ballroom instead.
Hawaii has not won road games in consecutive weeks since their storied 12-0 regular season in 2007. Heading into Friday, Graham says he believes that Wyoming is a better team than Fresno State despite the Cowboys losing to Nevada last week. Graham also thinks his team will get Wyoming’s “best shot” after coming off a disappointing loss.
The Cowboys, who went 8-5 last year, are in their seventh season under head coach Craig Bohl’s guidance. Although Graham has yet to build that same type of continuity in Manoa, he knows that the team is in good hands as long as Cordeiro is behind center.
“This kid can see the field. He’s very disciplined and he’s very coachable and that’s what he’s showed me and he took what the defense gave him. I like that and a quarterback that has elite discipline that’ll take what the defense gives us and manage the game…I think he’s got a chance to really be good,” Graham said of Cordeiro. “He’s a very talented young man and he doesn’t look at external or superficial things. He really wants to serve his teammates. He’s a great human being.
“He has a servant’s heart, doesn’t say very much. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation longer than 10 words with him. But he listens and I respect him a great deal because that’s something where I didn’t know where we were gonna be with that until the game. I thought his first game showed that and showed he’s got great potential to be really good.”