Class of 2017 quarterback Tua Tagovailoa already holds offers from Hawaii, Texas Tech, UCLA and USC. They want him badly – and for good reason.
This season, the sophomore threw for 2,583 yards with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 576 yards and another eight scores.
His numbers were positively Mariota-esque.
That makes sense, considering the sophomore signal-caller from Mariota’s own Saint Louis School learned from the man himself.
As a fourth grader, Tagovailoa attended a Saint Louis football camp in Hawaii. Hardly satisfied with competing against the kids his own age, the young athlete stepped in with the bigger boys, including then-Saint Louis freshman Marcus Mariota.
While the rest of the older boys laughed, Tagovailoa explained, Mariota took a liking to the confident kid and began to give him private instruction off to the side during drills.
“Everybody would kind of look at me different, but the one person who stood out was Marcus,” he said. “He didn’t really separate me from everybody. He would teach me. While everyone else said, ‘Get out of the way,’ Marcus would just pull me aside – and he was one of the best quarterbacks there. Just to get taught by him and him giving me attention I didn’t deserve, it was just awesome.”
That on-field relationship developed to the point that Mariota would sometimes take the young signal-caller to grab food after practice, where they talked about life off the field.
“When I had no ride, Marcus would ask me if I wanted to grab a bite or something. He would take me to McDonald’s just down the street,” Tagovailoa said. “He’d talk to me about how life is, my family, school. Marcus is a really social guy and he took the time. I know I wasn’t the only person he gave rides to and had conversations like that.”
The two stayed close over the course of Mariota’s high school career, according to Saint Louis coach Cal Lee.
“It’s basically upperclassmen that are working out with the younger kids,” he said. “The kind of friendship that they develop – they are all quarterbacks and are all working together. Everybody is helping each other. And you don’t know who the kid is, and next thing you know, he’s doing all the things he does.”
When Mariota was being recruited as a senior in high school, Tagovailoa assumed he’d head to Hawaii. So when he instead chose the Ducks, the young fan immediately adjusted his loyalties.
“At first I thought he was going to go to (Hawaii), so I was thinking of staying home too,” Tagovailoa said. “But when Marcus committed to the Oregon Ducks, I switched everything. If I got the opportunity to go to Oregon, they’d be at the top of the list.”
The two quarterbacks don’t see each other as often as they did when Mariota lived back home, but his early teachings live on.
This season, the 6-foot-0, 196-pound sophomore sensation tallied 41 total touchdowns with just three interceptions – a ratio even his mentor could admire.
That’s one reason Lee believes his current quarterback is further along at this point than any other Saint Louis arm he’s worked with, including former Washington State star Jason Gesser and NCAA record-holder Timmy Chang.
“Nobody has been recruited like he is as a sophomore. …Tua is really special,” Lee explained. “It’s only his sophomore year. All these other quarterbacks were juniors or seniors when they lit up the scoreboard.”
Tagovailoa’s jaw-dropping ability hasn’t gone unnoticed. Hawaii, Texas Tech, UCLA and USC have all extended scholarship offers.
This week, the Trojans became the most recent school to join the list, and while the sophomore signal-caller has expressed gratitude and interest, he’s still waiting on one school in particular.
“It’s a really great feeling,” he said. “It’s good, but I feel like I’ve set my mind already on where I want to go. I don’t want to change anything. I just want to follow in the footsteps of Marcus. I feel that Oregon is the place for me with that offense – being able to throw, being able to run. I feel like I fit perfect there.”
Asked what he’ll do when the Ducks offer, Tagovailoa struggled to string his thoughts together.
“If I got offered from Oregon… oh, geez,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for that for the longest.”
Lee sees his young quarterback fitting into Oregon’s system well, and believes he’s exactly the type of player the Ducks recruit.
“Honestly, he can run, he can throw the ball just like Marcus.” he said. “I think it would be a good fit, but who knows two years from now. I’m not a fortune teller.”
According to Lee, Oregon coaches will be at Saint Louis School on Thursday, and while they can’t talk to Tagovailoa directly, it seems likely they’ll be able to gauge his interest through the coaching staff.
Perhaps on the precipice of an Oregon offer, the Saint Louis product is overwhelmed with gratitude to be in his current position.
“I couldn’t thank God enough. I’m just glad that I get to talk about the superstar, my mentor – Marcus Mariota,” he said. “That’s who I try to be like. He’s been a big inspiration to me and my family. I couldn’t thank God more for him being bestowed into my life.”
Over the next two years the sophomore sensation will continue to try to develop into a spitting image of his idol, but has more immediate plans of simply watching his hero’s Heisman Trophy ceremony like the rest of the Oregon faithful.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Tagovailoa said. “At Saint Louis High School, everybody has been talking about it. After this win over Arizona, everybody has been talking about if Marcus doesn’t win this nobody is watching football anymore.”
In Eugene, school conversations may focus on “Jesus, Girls and Marcus Mariota,” but at Saint Louis School, the only two topics on anyone’s mind this week are the Ducks quarterback and a much-deserved Heisman Trophy.
Tagovailoa is hoping there’s one more topic his peers won’t stop clamoring about soon – his yet-to-be-extended offer from Oregon.