HONOLULU — Alabama 5-star quarterback commit Tua Tagovailoa has been in this situation before. When he heads to Tuscaloosa in January, all he’ll have to do is think back to two years ago.
Tagovailoa was a sophomore at Saint Louis High School. Ryder Kuhns looked like he would be the Crusaders’ starting quarterback that season. After all, Kuhns was a senior and was selected to the All-State team his junior year.
Heading into Tagovailoa’s sophomore year, he wasn’t going to make Kuhns’ life easy. He pushed for the starting job all summer and into fall camp. Saint Louis deployed a quarterback-by-committee approach in its first two games that season, and Tagovailoa eventually won the job outright.
“Tua would come home every day and tell me he couldn’t sit anymore,” Galu Tagovailoa, Tua’s father, told SEC Country.
He’s taking that mindset with him to Alabama next season. He isn’t going to Tuscaloosa with the idea of redshirting his freshman year. That’s not how Tagovailoa operates. He’s going there to push Jalen Hurts for the starting quarterback job even if the true freshman leads the Tide to a national championship victory at the end of this season.
Saint Louis coach Cal Lee, who has coached at the collegiate level at the University of Hawaii, said Tagovailoa is one of the ultimate competitors he’s been around.
“He could have said (as a sophomore), ‘Well, (Kuhns) is a senior and I’ll have two years to play,” Lee said. “He’s the kind of competitor you want all of your kids to be. You don’t want the kid that says he’ll wait until his senior year to play. When kids are going to college and they tell me they may want to redshirt, I say the coach tells you that. You don’t go in there looking to redshirt because you aren’t going to put in any effort.
“He knows there’s a freshman starter and he’ll have to compete. That’s life. Life is about competing and seeing what happens when you do that.”
Hurts is making his case to be included in the Heisman Trophy conversation. He has amassed 2,032 passing yards, 735 rushing yards and 27 total touchdowns. He already is the career leader in rushing touchdowns for a quarterback in the Nick Saban era with 11 and is the first QB in Alabama history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game.
Of course, schools that want Tagovailoa on their roster are negatively recruiting against Alabama by spewing out those stats to him when these coaches talk to him and his father. The Tagovailoas didn’t want to name the schools on the record, but at least one of the teams is in the SEC. The same question that several fans have asked him is being asked by college coaches: Why go to Alabama when Hurts already is on the roster?
“He’s going to Alabama because he wants to play for the best,” Saint Louis offensive coordinator Ron Lee said. “That’s it.”
Tagovailoa’s recruitment is similar to another one of Ron Lee’s former players — kicker Peter Kim, whom he coached at Kaiser High School in Hawaii before he enrolled at Alabama in 1980. Kim had a scholarship offer to attend Hawaii, but he chose the harder route.
It paid off big time for Kim. He kicked three field goals and made four PATs in Bear Bryant’s 300th win. Kim is No. 8 all-time in career field goals made at Alabama.
“Peter saw Bear Bryant on TV and Alabama was No. 1 in the country at the time,” Ron Lee said. He gave up his scholarship to walk-on at Alabama. He eventually won a scholarship and was successful for them.
“Tua is just like Peter. He wants to play for the best team in the country. He can go to other places that may be easier, but he wants to play for Nick Saban and the No. 1 team in the country.”
Would Alabama really make a quarterback change in 2017, especially if the Tide win it all this season? The Tagovailoas have been told by Saban that there’s always a quarterback competition when a new season begins.
All Tagovailoa wants is the opportunity to have a chance. His quarterback coach at Saint Louis — Vinny Pappas — said Tagovailoa’s game elevates when he’s pushed.
“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. 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 U.S. Army All-American agreed that in order for him to compete at his full potential, he likes when there’s another quarterback fighting alongside him. That was evidenced this summer at the Elite 11 MVP competition at The Opening at Nike headquarters. Tagovailoa went up against the top high school quarterbacks in the country and dominated, en route to him being given one of the most prestigious awards a high school quarterback can get.
“I believe competition brings out the best in everyone,” Tagovailoa said. “The hardest thing to me is competing against yourself because you don’t know how much harder you need to push. You don’t have anyone other than yourself to compete against.”
The nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback has heard the doubters of his commitment. He knows what he’s getting himself into. Tagovailoa was very complimentary of Hurts, saying he has all of the tools for the next level.
Tagovailoa believes he has all of the tools necessary to excel, too.
“Everyone is always going to have their own opinion and say this guy is so much better than you,” Tagovailoa said. “I think it just comes with my competitive nature. Whether he’s a true freshman or not, you’re always going to want to compete with the best, and if he’s the best, I want to go up against the best.”
Read more Tua Tagovailoa coverage:
- Tua has shut down his recruitment, and he’s locked in with the Tide.
- Tua’s QB coach also coached Marcus Mariota. He compares the two quarterbacks.
- Tua’s brother, Taulia, really wants to play for Nick Saban, too.
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
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