Tua Tagovailoa might not be an American household name yet, but he’s getting there. Fast.
On Wednesday, Tagovailoa officially became an All-American at his stop on the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Selection Tour presented by American Family Insurance. The Alabama commit did so while his name was thrust back into the national recruiting spotlight by a scholarship offer from LSU and the subsequent decommitment of LSU’s previous top quarterback commit, Under Armour All-American Myles Brennan. The backdrop to all the LSU news is subterfuge that the Tigers are also making an aggressive financial play to lure Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, one of Tagovialoa’s main recruiters, from Alabama to conference rival LSU.
Into this malestrom of news stepped Tagovailoa, who has been nothing if not calm amidst ever-increasing attention as his performance at Hawaiian football power St. Louis blossomed from a promising underclassmen quarterback to Alabama coach Nick Saban’s next choice as a young passer to the dual MVP of both the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp and Nike’s The Opening, an honor he called humbling and immediately genuflected toward his teammates. It’s been a heck of a run, and it’s given Tagovailoa ample experience dealing with pressure and media attention from all corners, which left him prepared and ready to deal with the latest developments head-on.
“I’m graduating early so that’s something I know,” Tagovailoa told USA TODAY from St. Louis High. “I committed to Alabama. I gave them my word. That’s that. I talked to my parents about this LSU offer, and they have their quarterback committed already (four-star Louisiana senior Lowell Narcisse). If they’re really trying hard and interested in me we should be getting calls today or this week.
“I speak with Coach Saban on FaceTime every Sunday, and it does make me feel good that he’s committed to that with me and we have connected so much.”
Of course, Tagovailoa’s Alabama scholarship offer, not to mention all the attention from other programs, is just one of the honors he’s achieved in his St. Louis career. He hasn’t had a full opportunity to reflect on his four years at the Honolulu school, which houses students from kindergarten through their final high school year, but he made it clear that being selected for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl was among his greatest accomplishments. That’s both because of what it signals about his talent, his values, and the platform that it gives him to serve as a role model for the students at St. Louis and in Hawaii whom he knows already look up to him.
“It’s amazing. I don’t know of any other kid from St. Louis who had this opportunity,” he said. “The chance to play in front of those who serve for our country and freedom. This is big not only for me but for my family and the St. Louis family. And this is just a little token to show that I appreciate the military and all they do for us. That’s really why I chose to take part in this game.
“My family and the whole school was there today, except for the little kids. Being around them has shown me that to have a voice is very powerful. When you’re a role model, you have a positive or negative impact on these kids. That means a lot. There are people in my life who I used to look up to, but knowing and understanding about that impact as you grow up, you learn more. (Former St. Louis and NFL star Marcus Mariota) is one of those people who is an amazing role model. There are plenty who have come from St. Louis, and he came from nothing and he won a state championship his senior year and now he’s a Heisman winner and he’s winning games in Tennessee. I’ve talked to him in the past and he sent me a text telling me good luck before the state championship game, which speaks to how the brotherhood here goes beyond your class.”
As for the future, for now Tagovailoa keeps coming back to Alabama. He hasn’t ruled anything out officially, but it’s clear his priorities are competing to the best of his abilities in San Antonio, in front of a rapt military crowd, and then making an impact in Tuscaloosa, where he insisted freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts’ success was more inspirational than it was concerning about his own future prospects.
“It gets me excited that Coach Saban does stick with his claim that the best will play in every situation,” Tagovailoa said. “The opportunity to see that Jalen got to play sparks a fire under me. It excites me that he stayed true to his word, not that he started a freshman. Every kid who is getting recruited by colleges wants to hear and see that.
“In a year, in a perfect world I still believe I’ll be at Alabama if everything works out the right way.”