Tua Tagovailoa: 10 things to know about Dolphins rookie QB ahead of his first NFL start

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) prepares to enter game against the New York Jets at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, October 18, 2020. (ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST)

This story was originally published Oct. 9, 2019, and has since been updated.

It's officially Tua Time! Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is making his first NFL start Sunday against the visiting Los Angeles Rams.

The former Alabama quarterback has replaced veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Dolphins starting quarterback after briefly appearing late in a blowout win over the New York Jets on Oct. 18.

Last week was the Dolphins' bye week, giving Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, time to prepare. 

Ahead of this milestone start, here are 10 things to know about Tuanigamanuolepola “Tua” Tagovailoa:

1. Tua was born in Hawaii on March 2, 1998. Tua’s grandfather Seu moved his family from American Samoa to Hawaii, settling in at Ewa Beach, a working-class community on the island of Oahu. Tua’s grandfather had visions, according to Sports Illustrated, that Tua would achieve greatness and that his name would be known “all over the world.” As a child, Tua, the oldest of four, reportedly slept with a football tucked in the crook of his arm. Tua’s father moved to Hawaii when he was 3. Tagovailoa, and this is important, is pronounced “Tongue-oh-vie-LOH-a.” Seu Tagovailoa, who held an important high chief position in his Samonan village and carried it to Hawaii, passed away in 2014.

2. Tua was raised in a very disciplined family. Discipline and religion are tenets of Samoan culture and Tua’s family was no different. Tua’s family was subject to some criticism when he discussed how he had been physically disciplined for doing something the wrong way as a youth. Disobedience or bringing shame to the family resulted in consequences such as being struck by a belt or spanked, which the Tagovailoa family said was not uncommon in their culture. Tua has a massive family and more than 400 members attended the last national championship game, per AL.com. Tua is a devout Christian. The day before the 2018 Heisman Trophy ceremony, Tua said: “From my experiences growing up in Hawaii, faith has been the biggest thing to me and I’d say to honor your parents.”

3. Tua’s father taught right-handed Tua to throw with his left hand. Galu strongly encouraged Tua to throw lefty despite his son being right-hand dominant. The reason: Galu was a lefty. Tua’s father was and is heavily involved in his athletic career. In fact, Galu chose Alabama as his son’s destination. Tua’s parents, Galu (Na-LOO) and Diane moved more than 4,000 miles to Tuscaloosa after their son enrolled in college. Because Tua is left-handed, Miami could potentially put a greater emphasis on the right tackle position than the left tackle position before next season, as the right side is his blind side.

4. Tua was mentored by Marcus Mariota, a former first-overall draft choice. Tua once placed a Mariota poster on the wall in his family’s living room. They met at a passing camp and both starred at Saint Louis High School, an all-boys Catholic school. In 2015, Tagovailoa watched Mariota’s moving Heisman speech from back in Honolulu. Tua owned an Oregon jersey as a youth. But the Ducks were strangely slow to offer a scholarship, according to USA Today. Tua’s favorite team was actually USC. At times in Mariota’s career, he has been hampered by injury. Skeptics of Tua cite that he has already had a few injuries, though without question, toughness is no concern.

5. Tua's first NFL appearance came during the last minutes of a blowout: With 2:27 left in that 24-0 win over the Jets, Tagovailoa entered the game to cheers from the socially-distanced Dolphins fans.

Tua was only on the field for five plays, but in that time, he completed two passes for nine yards, including a 7-yard pass to Jakeem Grant on third-and-7. The choice to put Tagovailoa in the game came a week after Tua did not appear in the final minutes of the Dolphins' 43-17 win over the 49ers.

Days after Tagovailoa's debut, he was named starting quarterback. His debut did come after the top overall pick in the 2019 draft, Joe Burrow, and the No. 6 pick, Justin Herbert, had made their debuts. 

6. Tua chose Alabama over at least 16 schools, including Oregon, UCLA and USC. When former FAU head coach and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin watched Tua practice, he emailed Nick Saban and staff, “This kid is Steve Young,” according to SI. During his freshman season, frustrated by a lack of playing time, Tua asked his family if transferring to USC was an option. Nope, they said. Tua has said he wore No. 11 as a youth for former Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart, a fellow lefty. 

7. Tua came off the bench to lead Alabama to a national title as a true freshman. At halftime of a national championship game against Georgia, trailing 13-0, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban turned to Tagovailoa, who had been backing up Jalen Hurts. Tua, then 19 years old, rallied his team and capped victory with a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith, streaking near the left sideline, in overtime. In the third quarter of that game, after throwing an interception, per SI, Tua threw an arm around Saban and said: “It’s going to be O.K., Coach.” According to AL.com, former Dolphins and Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick approached Tua after he entered the game. “You good?” Fitzpatrick said. “Yeah, I’m in,” Tua said. “Take over,” Fitzpatrick said.

8. Tua’s brother is the starting quarterback at Maryland. Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s brother, initially chose Alabama over schools like Florida, Oregon and Tennessee. But Taulia transferred to Maryland this offseason, and the redshirt freshman has started the Terrapins' first two games.

Maryland head coach Mike Locksley worked at Alabama from 2016-18 and was Tua's offensive coordinator in 2018. 

Before college, Taulia was a four-star recruit who led Thompson High to a state runner-up finish. In Hawaii, former college and NFL coach June Jones coached Taulia as offensive coordinator at Kapolei High School, where they operated Jones’ run-and-shoot scheme.

9. Tua is a record-setting quarterback who leaves scouts speechless. Tua, who is a bit shorter than ideal at 6-foot-1, has broken countless Alabama and SEC records. But scouts who watched him consistently cited instincts and intuition. Tua possesses remarkable accuracy (70 percent-plus), which is arguably the most important quarterback trait. Tua also boasts a quick, compact release. Critics suggest Tua is not often asked to make difficult throws. But that’s besides the point. He has the arm strength and talent to attempt and consistently complete contested downfield plays. And he has mobility to escape pressure in the pocket and extend plays.

10. Tua’s leadership style is even-keeled. Saban says Tua is pleasant, upbeat and respectful. An important part of the Samoan culture is respect for elders. Tua plays guitar, ukulele and piano. Tua says he does not feel nerves. He says calm is his norm, which for a quarterback, is a good norm. Mariota and Tua have actually privately and publicly apologized for miscues such as interceptions, which is a reflection of their upbringing. Tua, like Mariota, is humble, though some in Tennessee have wondered if it might serve him to be a bit more assertive or demanding at times.

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