Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa earned consensus All-American recognition, won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award and led a comeback that won a CFP national championship during his three seasons at Alabama.
But during an appearance on Miami teammate Tyreek Hill’s podcast “It Needed To Be Said” this week, Tagovailoa said he wanted to leave Alabama almost as soon as he got there as a highly rated recruit from Hawaii.
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“I don’t know if anyone else knows but my close friends, my close buddies, so this is kind of unique with this being on your podcast,” Tagovailoa said. “We had this thing called Fourth Quarter, and Fourth Quarter is spring conditioning. So the first day we go out there – this is the first day we see coach (Nick) Saban out there kind of supervising the drills and the running. We had eighties that day. You probably had to run like eight, so eight is like 80 straight, walk 80 straight – that’s one. You do eight from the right side, then you switch – eight to the left side. Then there’s like halftime and you go into the middle and you do a lot more running.
“After that, I got on the phone with my dad, and I told my dad, ‘Dad, do you think that USC still has an offer for me?’ I was ready to go. I was like, ‘Man, this is – I’ve never experienced something like this with the amount of work.’”
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Tagovailoa said the love for football that he found at Alabama was something else he hadn’t experienced previously.
“For me, the University of Alabama, they’re just based on football – the university, the people that live around the university,” Tagovailoa said. “… The whole football thing was something that was extremely different for me when I got there. When I did get the chance to start and I played and we were on this little roll of winning however many games and blowing teams out by however much, like going to class got a little harder, too. I can remember students bringing their parents into class. ‘Hey, let’s take a picture.’ …
“The cool thing I would say, to me, it was like a movie. That whole thing was like a movie. You know like how you see good football players, how they get treated, and you’re like, ‘Aw, that’s only in a movie.’ At the University of Alabama, it was like that. That’s how the students kind of looked at the players. And I’m not saying all the students. I’m just saying the students that watched Alabama football.”
While at Alabama, Tagovailoa broke school records for passing yards in a season and touchdown passes in a game, season and career. The Crimson Tide compiled a 22-2 record in games that he started. But his most famous moment came in the CFP championship game for the 2017 season.
With Alabama trailing Georgia 13-0 at halftime, Tagovailoa took over for Jalen Hurts at quarterback and led the Tide to a 26-23 overtime victory. Tagovailoa said the plan had been for both quarterbacks to play in the second half, but he went all the way.
“(Saban) told me and Jalen that I would be starting the second half and then we’re going to rotate, and we’ll see how that works,” Tagovailoa said. “But for me, I kind of had the mindset of: I got nothing to lose. I’m just going to go in here and do what I’ve been doing in practice, previous practices prior. I just took all the plays that I had ran in practice with the first team and also with the second team and just tried to make it my best.”
The next season, Tagovailoa was the starting quarterback for Alabama while Hurts was the backup. In 2019, Hurts transferred to Oklahoma and finished as the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting, as Tagovailoa had in 2018.
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Hurts is preparing for his second season as an NFL starter as is another quarterback in the Alabama position room with Tagovailoa and Hurts – Mac Jones.
“It was very competitive in that room, very competitive in that room,” Tagovailoa said. “But the thing that I have respect for for both of those guys is regardless of the competition we all had with each other, everyone was actually willing to help. When I got there – me and Mac came in at the same time – Jalen was already established as the guy. He had all these accolades and he took the team his first year to the national championship (game). He was established already, and for me and Mac to have came in, him being able to take us under his wing, I thought that was cool.
“It was very competitive, though. I think we all helped each other grow as players and that kind of helped the team out, too, because you knew when you were going against the second team and the third team, it still wasn’t easy. You’re getting it. That whole process, looking back at it now, that was cool. And you fast forward to where all three of us are at with J at the (Philadelphia) Eagles and Mac at the (New England) Patriots.”
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Tagovailoa is entering his third season with the Dolphins after joining the team as the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Miami has its first training-camp practice on July 27. The Dolphins start their three-game preseason schedule on Aug. 13 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and kick off their regular-season slate on Sept. 11 against the New England Patriots.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.