Why this BYU quarterback’s family moved 4,800 miles from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., and how it paid off
Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, a freshman from Laie, Hawaii, by way of a private Catholic school on the East Coast, is in the four-way quarterback derby to replace Zach Wilson
A lot of parents invest thousands of dollars to help their sons and daughters earn college athletic scholarships, often paying for specialized training and coaching and shelling out big bucks for travel, camp dues, expensive equipment and the like.
BYU quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters’ family did all that. Then the family of seven went the extra mile, as it were. Make that the extra 4,800 miles. In 2018, the Peters family moved from their comfortable home near Laie, Hawaii, where almost everyone was of Polynesian descent and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the Washington, D.C., suburbs, where almost everyone wasn’t, just so their son could have a better chance to play major college football on the mainland.
The tremendous sacrifice — and gamble, in the minds of many back home on the Islands — paid off.
“They took an incredible leap of faith, just for me,” Maiava-Peters told the Deseret News in a telephone interview last week. “I am forever grateful.”
Now Maiava-Peters is one of four quarterbacks on BYU’s roster competing in spring practices this month to replace probable NFL top-five draft pick Zach Wilson as the Cougars’ starting QB in 2021. A redshirt freshman, Maiava-Peters is battling Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover — all recently profiled by the Deseret News — in a quarterback derby new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick has said is as “wide open” as they come.
“They took an incredible leap of faith, just for me. I am forever grateful.” — BYU quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava on his family moving from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., before his junior year of high school
“I’m hanging in there,” Maiava-Peters said. “We’ve got so many really good quarterbacks here. It is a good competition, really intense, but also really fun. We are all pushing each other to get better.”
Maiava-Peters is seen as a bit of a long shot to win the job — Hall and Romney have more game experience and Conover is a former four-star recruit who drew raves with the way he ran the scout team last fall — but he is getting just as many reps this spring through two weeks as any of them, he said.
“They are keeping it equal right now, between the four of us,” he said. “I think that’s a good sign. Coach A-Rod is giving everybody a fair shot right now, to show what they can do.”
New passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake said Thursday that Maiava-Peters is one of the most well-liked players on the team and has an infectious personality that enables him to keep a positive attitude and flourish in all kinds of situations, a personality that served him well when his family was uprooted three years ago.
“That is something special,” Sitake said. “No matter what position you play, who you are, it keeps you going. It keeps you coming out fresh to practice, you don’t get caught up in the rut of things. That is kind of where he fits. He is very comfortable here. And that transitions into the football. … He is in a really good place and he’s been a great asset to our team.”
‘He is like a dad to me’
Maiava-Peters grew up in the tiny North Shore town of Hau’ula, Hawaii, and began playing football shortly after he could walk “because in the community I come from, everything is all about football,” he said. “Every kid on the North Shore grows up loving that sport.”
When he was 2 years old, his mother — Rosemary Maiava — married a man named Luaao Peters, which is why when Sol-Jay enrolled at BYU in 2020 he added that last name to his.
“He is like a dad to me,” Maiava-Peters said. “He has raised me since I was a little kid, and he is the reason why I got to this point in my life in my athletic career and stuff. He is the only father figure I have. It just felt right for me to add that on.”
Maiava-Peters’ biological father is on the football coaching staff at the high school he left after his sophomore season — Kahuku High — but the two don’t have a relationship, Maiava-Peters said.
“My mom tried (to get them connected), but it just didn’t work,” he said.
When he was 8, Maiava-Peters began playing quarterback because he idolized former Virginia Tech and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Later, he looked up to QBs from the Islands who made it to the pros, Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa.
“I played different positions growing up, and then in the eighth grade I decided to stick to quarterback full time,” he said. “Seeing (other Hawaiians succeed as quarterbacks) and what they have accomplished is an inspiration to me to know that I can do the same thing and hopefully get to their level.”
In June 2016, after he had completed the eighth grade, Maiava-Peters made USA Today headlines when he received a scholarship offer from Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Major programs such as BYU, Utah, Oregon, Virginia, Hawaii and Fresno State also offered Maiava-Peters while he was still at Kahuku, but he was persuaded the step up in competition would make him a better quarterback, and he transferred anyway.
A ‘different level’ kind of cross-country move
So how did this Latter-day Saint from rural Hawaii end up at St. John’s College High, a private Catholic high school in northwest Washington, D.C.?
It turns out that St. John’s had a quarterbacks coach, Drew Aumavae, who is a relative and family friend, and the Cadets have designs on becoming a national athletics powerhouse. The school partners with Under Armour, whose founder and CEO is Kevin Plank, a St. John’s alum.
Private schools around the country such as St. John’s routinely attract top-notch talent from other states, but going from Hawaii to the East Coast is “at a different level,” Mike Farrell of Rivals.com told The Washington Post in 2018.
The Peters family was willing to take it to the next level to get more eyes on the blossoming star, even if it meant finding new jobs in a “totally different culture” for Rosemary, a teacher, and Luaao, a social worker.
“It was pretty much my decision, and my family kinda followed me, just because they love me,” Maiava-Peters said. “The school that I moved to was ranked something like No. 5 in the nation and their schedule was one of the hardest schedules in high school football history. It was an opportunity that most kids in Hawaii would never get, so I decided to take it.”
Because Maiava-Peters had started as a freshman for Kahuku and had led the Red Raiders to an 11-2 record and a runner-up finish in the state championships, many locals were angered by his decision to leave “The Rock” and ply his trade on the mainland.
But he forged on, making his first trip to the East Coast alone as a 17-year-old in June of 2018 to participate in summer workouts with his new St. John’s teammates.
“It was kinda like going off to college,” he said. “I just went with the flow.”
A few months later, the other six members of his immediate family joined him. They later found a home in Silver Springs, Maryland, and began their new lives a world away from the swaying palm trees and sandy beaches of the North Shore.
“The biggest thing (to deal with) was the cold weather,” Maiava-Peters said. “Utah is cold, but if you ask A-Rod, he always says that the one day that he came to visit me in (Washington, D.C.) was the coldest day of his life.”
Maiava-Peters said his parents have enjoyed the area and their jobs so much that they still live there, even though he’s been in Provo for the last nine months.
Making a Father’s Day tribute, and commitment
After his junior season playing for the Cadets, Maiava-Peters was ranked as the No. 23 dual-threat quarterback in the country in the summer of 2018. At 6-foot-1, with a laser-timed 4.65 seconds time in the 40-yard dash, he added schools such as Purdue and Michigan State to his offers list after his first year at St. John’s.
Maiava-Peters had two favorite college teams growing up: The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors because that was his home state’s team, and the University of Utah, because his mother’s baby brother was a standout defensive end and linebacker for the Utes — Nai Fotu.
“A lot of my (extended) family are still big Utah fans,” he said.
But on Father’s Day 2018, as a tribute to his stepfather, Luaao Peters, he announced via Twitter that he was committing to BYU. A year earlier, on Mother’s Day in 2017, Conover had committed to BYU.
“I chose BYU for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First, it is because I am a member and everything. I just know how the church is and how everything works over here. I just decided this was the best place for me, and not just for members, but for any athlete who wants to go to the league (NFL) and not be distracted by other things that most schools have as distractions there.”
Utah was also in the picture, Maiava said, and the Utes sent offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig out to recruit him. His uncle, the aforementioned Ute defensive end, told him to go to the school that wanted him the most and would help him succeed the most, on and off the field.
“I always looked up to (Fotu) because he was the guy who made it to the Division-I stage and all that,” Maiava-Peters said. “He had some off-the-field troubles at the U. He always reminds me of what to do and what not to do, in this stage in life.”
‘Something exciting is going to happen’
At this stage in his life, Maiava-Peters has one goal: win that starting job. He had a front-row seat to Wilson’s rise from battling for the spot to fringe Heisman Trophy candidate to NFL prospect. He would like to be next.
“Just seeing what he did each and every day to get better was good for me. It was cool,” Maiava-Peters said. “From the way he studies film to the way he works on his mechanics and everything, he is a hard worker, and he’s got a great work ethic. He doesn’t care what people say about him, he just goes out and competes. He is not afraid to compete against anyone.”
Maiava-Peters got in only three games last year, all blowouts, but his first appearance was against Navy in the opener and it was something he will never forget, Annapolis, Maryland, being not far from where he played high school ball.
Does he have a chance to break through in as talented of a quarterbacks room as BYU has had in years?
“Sol-Jay is the one guy in that group that is a little different. He is a good player. He is an athletic guy. He can make a lot of plays with his feet,” Roderick said. “We always joke that when Sol-Jay goes in there, something exciting is going to happen. With his athleticism and his creativity, he is an exciting guy. And again, he was a highly recruited player. So I am excited to see what he can do and see the growth in him.”
Continue to grow, adapt and compete.
That’s the young Hawaiian’s mantra now.
For the family.
“I would say I am a family-oriented type of dude, first and foremost,” he said. “I am all about my family and friends and the ones who love me and always have my back since Day 1.”
And made a 4,800-mile move to prove it.