In 2014, Marcus Mariota captured the Heisman Memorial Trophy and implored young Polynesian athletes to “dream big.”
Tua Tagovailoa hung onto every last word.
Back then, Tagovailoa had completed his first season of varsity football as a sophomore at Saint Louis School, and was already setting himself up to follow in the footsteps of his mentor by leading the Crusaders back to prominence while helping Hawaii’s youth off the field through community service.
Fast forward to 2018.
Following Tagovailoa’s three-touchdown, national-championship-winning performance in Alabama’s 26-23 overtime win over Georgia, it was time for Mariota to bestow the praise.
“He’s a stud. He’s a stud,” Mariota told reporters. “He’s the next guy coming up and I’m proud of him. From where that kid’s come and how he’s grown, and how he’s handled the situation last night was very impressive. He’s a special player and hopefully he can continue his success.”
Mariota, who led his Tennessee Titans to a dramatic double-digit, second-half victory over the Chiefs himself Saturday, made sure to tip his cap to Tagovailoa.
“I sent him a text. Man, he probably had two or three hundred text messages,” Mariota said. “He’s a special kid. I’m sure you guys saw his interview after the game. That’s who he is. It’s nice to see someone like him continue to carry the torch from back home, and hopefully he will continue to take it to higher standards.”
Tagovailoa began learning under Mariota when he was in elementary school.
“I remember when I was in fourth grade. Marcus was a freshman, and I wouldn’t compete with my age group. I would compete with the older guys, the high school age group,” Tagovailoa recalled in 2014. “What separated Marcus from everybody else was he’d take his time, like time out, just to help me with my throwing. He’d encourage me when everybody would tell me like why do I compete with the high school group when I’m so young. Even if he didn’t win the Heisman, Marcus would have been somebody special to me. Even if he wasn’t as famous as he is now, he’d still be special to me.”
Despite the praise, Mariota believes that Tagovailoa’s success in a daunting situation came from within.
“He really has done it all himself,” Mariota said. “I think where he gets his humility from is his family. How he carries himself is really from where we grew up, and the kid’s a stud. He’s young and I hope he uses this as motivation to continue to get better and see how far he can take it. It really is just a way of life. It’s always about us. It’s always about the community. It’s never about I or what you’re doing, so when you carry yourself that way, it’s important that you remember that you represent much more than yourself, and I think he understands that.”
As has been the case for many of Mariota’s national exploits, the state of Hawaii rallied behind Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide Tuesday night.
This time, Mariota got a chance to watch as a fan and experience the joy that he has given to many in Hawaii.
“Man, I was excited,” Mariota said. “I think a lot of people are just excited. Coach Vinnie (Passas) back home who’s really kind of coached and mentored all of us, I’m sure he’s smiling at us. It’s nice to see these next generation of kids coming up and representing Hawaii well, and hopefully they’re laying the ground work for the next group that’s coming up behind them.”