HONOLULU — Vinny Passas vividly recalls one play where a Saint Louis School receiver slipped and fell leading to a Tua Tagovailoa interception that ricocheted off his teammate’s helmet as he was falling down. It was just one of three turnovers for Tagovailoa his sophomore season — a big reason why he took hold of the Crusaders’ starting quarterback job over a returning senior in Ryder Kuhns who was on the All-State team.
Passas’ memory also stretches back when the school’s most notable alumni to football fans was still a student. That student now is Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
When football fans across the nation mention Tagovailoa, Mariota is usually brought up soon after. Mariota started the first big wave of people knowing high school football players in Hawaii could play at an elite level. Tagovailoa now is the reinforcement wave.
It’s hard for Passas to compare the two Hawaii legends.
“That’s like asking me who I love more, my mom or my dad,” Passas told SEC Country. “They are both my brothers, and I love both of them to death. They both have their unique qualities. Marcus was an amazing student here. He was our team tutor. He ran a 4.5 40. He wasn’t as accurate as Tua is. Tua has a bit stronger arm than Marcus at this stage. Tua had more game experience here than Marcus because he played since sophomore year. Marcus was competing from day one, but he didn’t start until his senior year.”
Pappas sees a lot of similarities in Mariota’s and Tagovailoa’s game. He calls both quarterbacks mechanically sound, meaning they release the ball around 12 o’clock, as he likes to describe. They release the ball in front of their bodies and get the point of the football going downward instead of upwards, giving them more control of where they place their passes. Where some quarterbacks may lose accuracy when moving in the pocket, Tagovailoa and Mariota excel because of their footwork.
An advantage both quarterbacks have, Pappas says, is that ability to come directly over the top with their passes. Tagovailoa is 6-foot-2, but releasing the ball at 12 o’clock gives him an extra two inches, Pappas says.
At this stage of their careers, Pappas believes Tagovailoa has a clear advantage.
“He’s an amazingly accurate thrower,” Pappas said. “I’ve never seen a guy spin the ball like this. His leadership skills are pretty amazing, and it comes from his spiritual side by listening to prayers and how he can quote the gospel.
“Marcus isn’t so much of a rah-rah type of guy. He leads more with his actions. He doesn’t get on people vocally, where as Tua will get on you. Marcus was more of a quieter leader than Tua is.”
Both quarterbacks are tremendous when it comes to competing. Although Mariota didn’t win the starting job until his senior season after his predecessor graduated, he always was ready to go. It’s an advantage Pappas sees from the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.
Alabama has a true freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts who has exceeded all expectations through the first 10 games of his career. Would Alabama really make a quarterback change in 2017, especially if the Tide win it all this year? The Tagovailoas have been told by Nick Saban himself that there’s always a quarterback competition when the season ends no matter how many wins the team has.
For Tagovailoa, that’s important because he’s been “the guy” on every team he’s been on for the majority of his life, as Pappas explains.
“In one instance, Marcus was prepared for college,” Pappas said. “He was able to sit, compete every day and then get ready when called on. I’ve seen guys who have been starters since Pop Warner all the way through senior year, and when they get to college, they aren’t the guy anymore and they don’t know how to react. Marcus had experience going through that. Tua doesn’t have that. His level skyrocketed when he was competing for something.
“He could be the exception to the rule. He still has that driving force to figure out how he can get better by spending more time in the weight and film rooms.”
Make no mistake about it, Tagovailoa didn’t commit to Alabama just to sit behind Hurts until he either leaves for the NFL draft or graduates. He’s going to Tuscaloosa in 2017 to take his job. That’s his mindset.
“People ask me why is he going to Alabama because they have their guy already who’s a freshman,” Pappas said. “He’s going to compete for a job. His level of play climbs a couple of notches when there is competition. I think that’s going to bring the best out of him and make him better. Right now, I’m struggling to find ways to make him better because no one is really pushing him for that spot.”
The nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback has had a more illustrious career than the man who put the Polynesian culture and Hawaiian football on the map. Tagovailoa is 87 away from eclipsing Timmy Chang’s state record of 8,001 career passing yards — a record that will likely be broken this Saturday in the state championship game against Kahuku.
It’s still hard for Pappas to choose which quarterback he’d rather have.
“If I had to take the first pick between those two, I think I would have to defer that one,” Pappas said with a laugh. “No matter which one you get, you end up with an amazing player.
“I think Tua can be a Sunday guy, and, like Marcus, I think he can be a Heisman guy as well.”
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
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