By Aaron Suttles
To understand why Tua Tagovailoa, one of the nation’s top prep quarterbacks, committed to the University of Alabama and kept that commitment even in the face of true freshman Jalen Hurts finding stardom at the same position, you must first understand the most important thing to the Tagovailoas. Their faith.
Tagovailoa is a young man whose faith is the driving force in his life. He’s not shy to profess his Christianity. That his faith is shared by many in the Tuscaloosa area is chief among the reasons he chose the Crimson Tide and it’s nearly equal as his desire to play with the best competitors in the country.
UA head coach Nick Saban said Tagovailoa, a Hawaii native, was the only player he’s ever recruited who went to church with him every time he was in Tuscaloosa.
“A lot of people are rooted in the word over here just like back home,” Tagovailoa said. “The Southern hospitality is almost the same as the love and the kindness that they show back at home.”
In fact, Tagovailoa said Hurts’ success in his true freshman season, one in which he was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, played no factor in the recruiting process.
“You have to go places to compete, so why not come to the best place?” he said. “You want to play with the best, I guess. That’s kind of my thing. Anywhere you go, you’re going to have to compete. Like I said, I just got here and I’m still trying to find myself.”
Much like most 18- and 19-year-old college freshmen, Tagovailoa is in the process of finding himself. Being a well-known football player in a town and state that obsesses over college football, despite the fact that he’s never played in game, is still surprising to the native Hawaiian.
He’s been on campus for only about four weeks but he’s always stunned when people cross the street, even into the face of oncoming traffic, just to meet him.
The only culture difference that’s stuck with him so far is his love for fried chicken.
“I think everything over here is fried,” he joked as he rubbed his stomach. “I can’t be eating that anymore. I have to go on a diet.”
Spend even the smallest amount of time with Tagovailoa and it’s understandable that you’d come away impressed. Much like the last two quarterbacks Alabama has recruited in the last two classes – Blake Barnett (2015) and Hurts (2016) – Tagovailoa has the “It” factor with leadership qualities that are mature beyond his years.
He comes to Tuscaloosa with a curriculum vitae worthy of Alabama’s star-studded No. 1-ranked recruiting class. He was the most valuable player at the Elite 11 quarterback competition and at Nike’s “The Opening.” During his high school career he threw for 8,158 yards to become Hawaii’s career yardage passing leader, throwing for more yards than even his friend Marcus Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy at Oregon.
David Morris, a coach at QB Country who has tutored Crimson Tide quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Jake Coker, said Tagovailoa is highly skilled coming out of high school.
“On film he looks like a guy can do a little bit of everything,” Morris said. “He can make all the throws in the pocket. He’s a lefty. Sometimes lefties don’t look as fluid, but I think he looks very fluid.
“The thing that jumps off the screen to me is his arm strength. It looks like he can really throw it in there. Whether it be a hard ball or a long ball, he can make all those throws. And then the athleticism jumps out at you a little bit. He can make some plays when the play breaks down. This guy is impressive. I’ve seen some of his older film and he was under center a good bit. He’s not going to be surprised by anything they put on him.”
Being a left-handed quarterback doesn’t sound like it would be a huge difference in an offense. The protection shifts a bit, making the right tackle all the more important to protect his blind side, but there is more that must be accounted for too.
“The way the ball spins is a little different,” Morris said. “The way it comes at you. It probably throws you off because you don’t see it as often. It’s just a matter of adjusting to it. There is a little adjustment period.”
As for what Tagovailoa expects for his first year, he doesn’t see things the same as the common fan. He knows he has his work cut out for him with Hurts the established incumbent, but he’s content to work hard and let the cards fall where they may.
What will be a successful season?
“Just being able to use what God has given me as a platform for his glory and his glory only,” he said.
And on the field?
“What happens happens.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.