Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Roll Tide-ings, a rundown of everything happening in Alabama Crimson Tide recruiting with Chris Kirschner. In this edition, we talk the latest with the father of top 2020 QB DJ Uiagalelei.
The rise of DJ Uiagalelei
David John “DJ” Uiagalelei Jr. was the starting quarterback for the Upland Pop Warner Chargers at the Pee Wee level when he was in the third grade. Uiagalelei was playing alongside sixth- and seventh-graders and was by far the youngest player on the team.
The nation’s No. 1 quarterback in the 2020 class had to play alongside kids who were three or four years older because of his size. While he excelled, the experience of playing with much older kids almost made him give up football and focus on baseball, the sport he played since he was 4 years old.
“I wanted to pull my son out because he was getting smashed on the field,” David Uiagalelei, DJ’s father, told SEC Country. “He would leave the field in tears. It almost scared my son away from football. He played that third-grade year and didn’t come back to football until sixth grade. He only played baseball those years in between.
“I didn’t force him to play, but I told him that a lot of times when you start something, it doesn’t matter if you finish last but at least you finished.”
The 5-star prospect played with kids older than him every year until he got to high school. Going into his fifth-grade year, Uiagalelei attended a camp that was supposed to be for high school athletes. But because of his size, he fit in. Then one of the wide receivers noticed that the ball he caught didn’t feel right.
“He was throwing a youth football,” his father said with a hearty laugh. “He was throwing some beautiful balls and was fine for the hour-and-a-half that we were out there until one of the coaches told me that he wasn’t supposed to be out there.”
Whenever his son would go to these camps, David would make sure to bring his camcorder and post the highlights to YouTube. There was a reason why he wanted his son to go to as many camps as possible at a young age. The family didn’t have money to get private quarterback training, so creating highlights and talking to as many coaches as possible was Uiagalelei’s way of creating hype for his son.
Uiagalelei attended a training session with noted quarterback coach Steve Clarkson when he was in the sixth grade. His father made sure to film his son’s workout with Clarkson, and with a little clever marketing trick he posted the highlights and made sure to note that his sixth-grader was being coached by one of the best trainers in the country. Uiagalelei’s marketing of his son wasn’t well received by every parent.
“I’ve been promoting my son for so long and a lot of people have told me that I was doing too much,” David Uiagalelei said. “I don’t do it anymore, but a lot of those people have called me and said I was right all along. I’m no LaVar Ball. I’m not saying my son is better than Tom Brady. None of that. I’m just saying I know what the ball is supposed to look like coming out of the hand. He was doing this at a young age with kids much older than him and starting as a quarterback.”
His son is now the highest-rated quarterback in any class in high school football. He collected offers from Fresno State, Oregon State, Southern Cal and UCLA before playing a snap of high school football.
Alabama offered Uiagalelei, who is now a 6-foot-4, 240-pound prospect, during his ninth-grade year at St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) and hosted him for the first time earlier this week.
DJ Uiagalelei impressed by Alabama visit
David Uiagalelei didn’t make the trip to Tuscaloosa with his son, but he made sure he called as soon as the visit was over. Uiagalelei had been looking forward to this trip for a while. He has developed a relationship with Tua and Taulia Tagovailoa, and both quarterbacks have told him what he could expect at Alabama.
His first trip to Tuscaloosa exceeded all expectations. The biggest eye-opener for him was the amount of top athletes in the program.
“He walked into the weight room and said, ‘Dad, I thought I was looking at defensive ends and defensive tackles, but they were linebackers,'” David Uiagalelei recalled. “I can tell from what he was telling me that he could see why Alabama is the No. 1 school. Their preparation is like no other. To me and where we’re at, I feel like Alabama is Bosco or Mater Dei [High School]. You get the best athletes there. I feel the same way about Alabama. They have so many 5-stars and top recruits.
“Why wouldn’t I want my son to go there? I consider him a 5-star. No one has to tell me that my son is the type of kid who can compete with 5-stars. I’m not saying my son is better than everyone, but I chose to go to Bosco because I felt like my son needed to be challenged by top talent.”
Uiagalelei didn’t get the opportunity to be Bosco’s full-time starter until midway through his sophomore season, when he put up 2,733 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. DJ has never clamored to be the starting quarterback at Bosco. He went there mainly because of a lack of proper training growing up. Bosco provided that.
ALABAMA WAS AMAZING!!!!! #RollTide
— 🌟 DJ Uiagalelei 🌟 (@DJUiagalelei) June 13, 2018
Alabama will have several quarterbacks ahead of him on the roster if he ends up choosing the Tide, and he might not make his decision until National Signing Day in February 2020. His father wants him to commit before his senior season, but DJ is a people-pleaser and hates letting people down. He told his father that he wants to take his recruitment the entire distance because he wants to put off turning a school down until the last possible second.
The amount of quarterbacks on the rosters at the schools he’s still considering isn’t a factor in his recruitment. Again, he went to Bosco knowing the team had a returning state championship quarterback in Iowa State signee Re-al Mitchell. Barring zero transfers, which seems unlikely at this point, and zero early entrants to the NFL draft, the Tide will have senior Tua Tagovailoa, redshirt junior Mac Jones, likely redshirt sophomore Layne Hatcher and likely redshirt freshmen Paul Tyson and Taulia Tagovailoa on the roster in Uiagalelei’s freshman year.
“I know they have a couple of 2019 recruits already at quarterback,” his father said. “That will not deter my son from going to the school. We are willing to wait our turn and willing to battle. He’ll go to any school that will give him the best opportunity to compete and get on the field.”
Southern Cal has been Uiagalelei’s favorite school since he was a child, much like it was for Tua Tagovailoa. He wears No. 5 because his favorite player is Reggie Bush. His grandmother, who he affectionately called Mammy until her death last year, was a diehard Trojans fan who would routinely play USC’s fight song during family gatherings.
But his lifelong fandom of USC won’t play a factor in his decision, which only can be seen as a positive for Alabama’s chances.
“We’ve always been USC fans, but in this process he puts all of that aside,” David said. “He wants to go to a place that best fits him. He’s not going to a school just because they won a national championship or the school he followed since he was a kid. He’s looking for a school that he can go to and contribute early or compete right away.”
Another factor in his decision is the sport he’s been playing his entire life. Uiagalelei wants to play football and baseball in college. He’s a pitcher, right fielder and hits with power. To no one’s surprise, all of the schools recruiting him as a quarterback have told the family that he would have the opportunity to play both sports in college. It’s been done before. Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft this month by the Oakland Athletics and is in line to be the Sooners’ starting quarterback this fall.
Several baseball scouts have told Uiagalelei that he has the potential to go in the first round in the 2020 MLB draft because of his size and power. The family has not decided what they would do if it comes down to getting drafted in the first round of the MLB draft and receiving a lucrative contract. Uiagalelei did visit the baseball facility in Tuscaloosa along with the football complex.
After leaving Alabama, Uiagalelei and his coaches visited Georgia, where he received an offer from the Bulldogs, and Clemson, a school that is very high on his list because Bosco mimics the Tigers offense.
But after talking with his son after his first Tuscaloosa visit, David believes Alabama will be one of DJ’s finalists.
“They made such an impression on my son that I believe Alabama — if he had to make a decision and have hats on the table right now —would have a hat on the table. Trust me. I don’t see how you can’t consider them,” David said.
“As a father, why would you not want your son to go compete at that school? I know my son can compete there. He has trained and made the sacrifices necessary to have the opportunity to go to a school like that. I would hope my son considers Alabama as his place to call home. I can sit here and say that I believe Alabama is a place where my son should be. I like Alabama because of the coaching and what they do with those guys. How many of their players got drafted this past season? Twelve, right? I believe in those numbers. Alabama, no doubt, will be one of the schools that DJ has in the end.
“If he decided to go to Alabama, I wouldn’t have a problem with it because I’ve always believed that my son needs to be at a place where he’s going to be challenged by the best.”
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