Tua Tagovailoa brought Hawaii’s “Aloha Spirit” to Alabama whether he knows it or not.
“Everybody is trying to help everybody,” Hawaii sports radio host Bobby Curran said. “That’s really what we think of with the ‘Aloha Spirit:’ very welcoming, very embracing. You reach out first. You don’t wait until someone reaches out to you.”
You see it every time Tagovailoa celebrates a touchdown with fellow quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones, specifically Hurts since the battle for starter was between the junior and Tagovailoa, a sophomore.
It wasn’t until the Thursday before Alabama’s season opener that Tagovailoa found out he would be the No. 1 quarterback. Instead of saving his redshirt and leaving with an extra year of eligibility, like Clemson’s Kelly Bryant did after he lost his starting job to Trevor Lawrence, Hurts decided to stay at Alabama.
“Can you imagine if something happened to me?” Tagovailoa said Tuesday, addressing the media for the first time this season. “Mac Jones would be good, but also having Jalen here, who’s very well experienced, it’s a testament to his character. It’s a testament to his morals, how he was raised within his family. And just him being here with our team, everybody respects him so much. He’s a leader.”
Tagovailoa has nothing but praise for Hurts, even though everyone nationally has been praising him.
ESPN analyst Greg McElroy called Tagovailoa “the most talented quarterback Alabama has had under Nick Saban.” And McElroy was a quarterback at Alabama under Saban from 2007-10.
CBS analyst and former NFL quarterback Gary Danielson said Tagovailoa “plays quarterback like a jazz musician, not like off notes. … You can just feel it all fit together.”
Even Saban admitted in regards to internal expectations, Tagovailoa has “probably exceeded that to some degree, in terms of consistency.”
“We’re just trying to be 1-0 every week,” Tagovailoa said. We’re just trying to win games. I think that’s the focus.
“Coach Saban said I exceeded his expectation, I don’t think I did. He has to be joking with you guys because that’s definitely not what Coach Saban would tell us. There’s always room for improvement.”
Alabama is the best team in the country right now, and Tagovailoa plays a big part in that success. That’s why people in Hawaii are saying “Roll Tide” on Saturdays, even though Tagovailoa wasn’t the first player from the Central Pacific islands to make a splash in college football.
The name Marcus Mariota should ring a bell.
“Tua was a little bit in the shadow of Marcus because he’s the first-ever Heisman Trophy winner from Hawaii,” Curran said. “My guess is you’ll soon have two, but who knows.”
Mariota went to the same high school as Tagovailoa (St. Louis), won the Heisman Trophy in 2014 at Oregon and is now the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.
Last Sunday, the Titans beat the Philadelphia Eagles in overtime and Mariota actually credited the “Aloha Spirit” for his poise in the final 16-play winning drive.
“It is gratefulness, it is thankfulness, it is being humble, and understanding that it takes much more than yourself to accomplish something,” Mariota said. “And when you have that in your mind-set, you tend to just go about your business in a calm way.”
His description mirrors that of Tagovailoa, when the younger Samoan explains why his faith keeps him grounded.
“Most definitely not going overboard with things, staying levelheaded, knowing who I am,” Tagovailoa said. “I’d say most definitely with my faith, there’s no room for me with it. It’s always about other people. It’s always about loving on other people and giving praise where praise is due.”
Well, praise is due here: Five games into the season and Tagovailoa has completed 75 percent of his passes for 1,161 yards and 14 touchdowns. That’s without taking a single snap in the fourth quarter.
He went 8-for-8 last weekend. He threw for 387 yards the week before.
Yet, sometimes during the media-viewing portions of practice, Hurts still leads the quarterbacks through drills.
“It was after the Louisville game, a Monday practice getting ready for Arkansas State, Jalen told me to go in front of him because now I’m the starting quarterback and I’m going to be the leader and what-not,” Tagovailoa said. “I told him no. I told him that he still belongs in that role just because of everything that he’s done.”
There’s that “Aloha Spirit.”
“It’s natural to him,” Curran said. “But you probably know this about Tua: He’s a feisty competitive sucker. Don’t mistake the Hawaii part for there not being steel underneath.”
Reach Terrin Waack at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.