Former Downey High quarterback Aaron Zwahlen has transferred to Southern Utah University, where he’ll play alongside another local standout.
Fresh off a productive spring, Zwhalen will compete for the starting job in Demario Warren’s offense. It’s a refreshing twist to the story: Zwhalen hasn’t started a season opener since his senior of high school ... five years ago.
“I had a great spring,” Zwahlen said. “I’ll compete for a starting spot, and I hope that I can earn it. It’s been five years since I was the guy going into game one and I’m excited about it.”
It wasn’t supposed to be Southern Utah, though.
When Zwahlen received his release from the University of Hawaii, he was set to go to Murray State, a Division I program in Kentucky, on scholarship.
On the eve of his official visit, Zwahlen was left on the curb. Murray State had given away his scholarship, and Zwahlen, one the country’s highest-rated quarterbacks coming out of high school, had no Plan B.
“I was pissed,” Zwahlen said. ‘I was really, really upset. I had put all my eggs in one basket. I was planning to go to one school and then I was dropped. I hadn’t made any other plans.”
Zwahlen scrambled to find a landing place. He exhausted his football Rolodex, checking in with coaches at Washington State (the Cougars recruited him out of high school) and junior college programs.
“I called every coach I knew,” he said.
Southern Utah didn’t have a scholarship, but coach Warren offered the 6-foot-3, 200-pound pocket passer a roster spot and a chance to compete.
Ultimately, that’s all Zwahlen ever wanted.
The writing was on the wall at Hawaii, where first-year coach Nick Rolovich favored quarterbacks with a zone-read, run-based skill set. Zwahlen is a gunslinger.
“I wanted to play,” said Zwahlen, who was recruited to Hawaii by former coach Norm Chow. “When Norm got fired (in 2015), I decided to stay and I felt like that was a good move.
“(Rolovich) brought in great coaches and players, and I like the energy and coaching style.”
“He also brought in quite a few quarterbacks. In order for me to excel and get to that next level, I wanted to be able to play and go to a program that could use my talents more than Hawaii could.”
Zwahlen starred for the Knights from 2010-13 and signed with Hawaii out of high school. As a senior, Zwahlen threw for 3,852 yards and 49 touchdowns, giving birth to coach Jeremy Plaa’s “Air Raid” attack.
At the time, Zwahlen was the 10th-best quarterback prospect, according to ESPN, and trailed only University of Washington quarterback and Heisman hopeful Jake Browning on the state leaderboard in touchdown passes.
Browning starred for Folsom High.
Zwahlen delayed his playing career to serve a two-year church mission and appeared in one game last fall, completing three of his 10 passes with one interception against San Diego State.
He joins the same recruiting class as former Beyer High and Modesto Junior College running back Jay Green, who turned himself into a Division I prospect in one season in the Pirates’ NASCAR offense.
Green was the Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year and selected to All-State and All-America teams.
He led all state running backs in rushing touchdowns (20) and average yards per game (116.5). He finished with 1,281 yards.
Southern Utah competes in the Big Sky and will open the season at University of Oregon Sept. 2. The Thunderbirds will visit Northern California twice, traveling to Sacramento State Sept. 23 and UC Davis Nov. 11.