Next Tagovailoa up — How Tua's younger brother Taulia moved from offensive line to QB1
Taulia Tagovailoa was never expected to be the starting quarterback of a Power Five program. He shouldn't throw more than 250 yards per game on a 61.5% clip over four shows to be recognized as an All-Big Ten award for Maryland. His entire family imagined Ewa Beach in Hawaii being born the one who grabbed the ball, not the one who played.
"I never thought Lia would be where he is today," his father Galu told Yahoo Sports. "From a center to a quarterback."
Tagovailoa started playing soccer at the age of 7, as the center for his brother Tua, who is now the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. The siblings' uncle, Derek Faavi, played the University of Hawaii Center alongside Colt Brennan under head coach June Jones, and Taulia, who was overweight as a kid, wanted to compete in his shoes.
So the brothers teamed up on the field for the family program, the Ewa Beach Sabers, with one leading the offense and the other occupying the trenches against boys who were at least two years older than him. Taulia came with as Galu did some extra workout with Tua, soaking everything in as he practiced catching the ball and stepping in as a throwing partner if necessary. And both of them took notes in the film room from an early age.
When Tua finally went to high school, the middle school team needed a quarterback. Another uncle, Pastor Tuli Amosa, who coached the group, envisioned the younger Tagovailoa as the game caller, and began Taulia's journey from center to quarterback - an extremely rare change of position to say the least.
"I was very happy. Every center wants to be a quarterback or the receiver or something," Taulia told Yahoo Sports.
The transition to this, however, was not an easy task, both physically and mentally.
"'Dad, I thought quarterback was easy, but I didn't know it was that hard,'" Galu recalled of his son when he started training. He said there were times when Taulia, not even a teenager, considered playing lineman again to just be a normal player.
Taulia Tagovailoa of the Maryland Terrapins runs with the ball against the Indiana Hoosiers during the game at Memorial Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images)
At that moment, Galu explained the importance of the position and the responsibilities it bears. The responsibility to set an example for teammates. The responsibility of taking a team on its back. The responsibility to lead. "If you don't want that, you have to let me know," he said to his son.
"Okay dad, I want to play [quarterback]," Taulia said after thinking about it. "I want to do it."
Determined to rise to the challenge, Taulia committed herself to a full body transformation.
Maryland Runs Back Challen Faamatau, a close family friend, recalls Taulia taking the extra time to run to lose weight hanging out with Tua at the Tagovailoa's house - Taulia ran every day. He also trained and exercised in the off-season to lose weight.
However, when it comes to large family cookouts, a large part of Polynesian culture, the real sacrifice came into play.
"I just had to look away and just enjoy my salad while everyone was grilling and the like," he said with a laugh. "But it all paid off."
Taulia strove to keep his brother's success at the center and often turned to Tua for help. The better he got, the more competitive the additional workouts became. Whether it was leg work, repetition, running, or anything in between, Taulia tried to outdo Tua.
"There is only one Tua," Galu often reminded his son. "There just has to be one Taulia."
The quarterback continues to seek advice from his older brother to this day, with Tua frequently performing FaceTiming during film sessions with Maryland's head coach Mike Locksley. This close bond and mutual support has not changed, but Taulia has now set up on her own.
The Tagovailoa family moved to Alabama to be close to Tua when he began his college career with Nick Saban in 2017. For Taulia, this meant starting his junior season at Thompson High School, which is attending one of the toughest conferences in the country.
"I didn't know the importance of football until I got to Alabama," Taulia said. “It's a different kind of grind and football is life there. I think I am very blessed to experience this and I will take the hard work I have been through everywhere I go. "
The Warriors hadn't won more than five games or better than fifth in their region in over a decade, but in his first season the junior led Thompson to the Class 7A Region 3 championship and state semifinals. The next year they made the state championship.
Taulia was named a first-team all-state player for both seasons. That season, he was the only player in state history to play at least four 400-yard games. He finished his high school career as a four year old starter with 14,207 yards and 135 touchdowns and 11 on the ground.
"If he wants to do something, he'll do whatever it takes," Faamatau told Yahoo Sports. "He doesn't care how he feels, he'll just do what he'll do."
Maryland Terrapins' Taulia Tagovailoa is set to face the Penn State Nittany Lions in the first half at Beaver Stadium on November 7, 2020 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)
The impressive high school show earned Taulia a coveted scholarship to play with his brother for the Crimson Tide in 2019. But when Tua went to design, it was time for Taulia to keep trying to find his own identity. So he moved to Maryland to play under Locksley, who was offensive coordinator in Alabama from 2017-18.
On his transfer, Taulia again experienced an unusual transition as he tried to build chemistry with his teammates amid the coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented season of hiatus.
Almost every day in the summer, Taulia texted his broad audience in the hope of being able to exercise. They found empty spaces to practice different routes and match reps - so much so that Locksley had to remind them that some facilities were still banned. The group still does the same thing after each workout.
Whether or not the terps trained, teammates said Taulia will arrive at the team facility around 6:30 a.m. to study movie and meet with coaches. Often he doesn't leave until midnight. The shift from center to quarterback helped him establish a certain kind of toughness and work ethic that hasn't stopped.
"[He] is one of those who treat quarterback playing as a profession," Locksley said. "He's right, along with some of the other great ones that I've had the chance to be with in his approach to the game."
Taulia struggled intermittently in the shortened season, throwing three interceptions on his debut against Northwestern and another trio against Indiana, with most offensive starters being canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. He attributed most of these mistakes to trying too hard to play big games instead of taking what the defense gave him.
However, in the team's two wins (they only played five games, one of which was inactive) against Minnesota and Penn State, Taulia showed signs of how special he was as a player.
In the two wins, he completed 72.1% of his passes for 676 yards and six touchdowns and 72 yards and two touchdowns on the run - one of which secured an overtime win over the Golden Gophers.
After those wins, Taulia bought all of his offensive linemen dunkin donuts as a thank you. "I have to treat her," he said. After all, he knows the grind that comes with playing in the trenches from personal experience.
"I never thought [Taulia] would be what [Taulia] is now," Galu said. "The work he has done has shown that he wanted to go further."
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