Taulia Tagovailoa has always been in his big brother’s shadow. He had approximately zero chance of living up to the expectation attached to his surname in Alabama, of achieving as much as Tua, the most prolific Crimson Tide quarterback of all-time.
At Maryland, little brother can become a legend.
One week after entering the transfer portal, the rising sophomore decided to leave Alabama and become a potential savior in College Park under coach Mike Locksley, who was Tua’s offensive coordinator when the lefty was the Heisman runner-up in 2018. Tagovailoa — a four-star prospect, ranked the fifth-best pro-style quarterback in his class — reportedly considered choosing a school in Florida to remain close to his family (including the new Dolphins franchise quarterback), but ultimately opted for one of the most challenging roads available.
At Alabama, Tagovailoa was unlikely to see the field anytime soon. Mac Jones is expected to take over after filling in for Tua last season and five-star commit Bryce Young is the future. At Maryland, he is instantly the most talented quarterback on the roster and the favorite to start, once eligible. After appearing in five games with Alabama last season and completing 9-of-12 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, Tagovailoa has three years of eligibility remaining, but will likely have to sit out the 2020 season.
“Taulia has outstanding field vision and excellent pocket awareness,” Locksley said in a statement. “He’s a twitchy passer that has the ability to make and extend plays in and outside of the pocket because of his above-average athleticism. Taulia has terrific touch and trajectory on his throws and delivers the ball with above-average accuracy. He’s a highly competitive player that will bring great competition to a good quarterback room.”
When Locksley and Tua were combining to create the most explosive offense in Crimson Tide history, Taulia was making history at nearby Thompson High School, where he won a state title in 2018 and became the first high school quarterback in Alabama history with four 400-yard passing games. He received offers from LSU, Michigan, Oregon and others, but reportedly went to Alabama to allow the family to remain together.
Now, Tagovailoa ventures into the unknown. The 100,000-plus crowds of Bryant-Denny Stadium will be replaced by a half-empty Maryland Stadium. The most successful program in college football history will be exchanged for a basketball school, which hasn’t won a football conference championship since 2001, hasn’t had a 10-win season since 2003, hasn’t had a winning season since 2014 and is trapped in the Big Ten East, battling Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State every season.
Maryland’s inability to find another Boomer Esiason or Frank Reich or Neil O’Donnell ranks high among the reasons for its decline. The Terrapins haven’t had an all-conference quarterback since 2002 (Scott McBrien). They haven’t had a quarterback drafted since 1991 (Scott Zolak). Last season, Maryland’s quarterbacks combined to have the second-worst rating among Power 5 teams, according to ESPN.
Locksley recently built some hope, finishing with a top-35 ranked recruiting class in the 2020 cycle, while currently boasting a 13th-ranked class for 2021. Tagovailoa brings added credibility to a program in shambles after the death of Jordan McNair and the firing of D.J. Durkin.
Tagovailoa can be the best quarterback the school has had in decades.
He likely will never come close to his brother’s accomplishments. But at Maryland, he doesn’t have to.
“To even begin comparing him to Tua, I would never do that,” Locksley told AL.com. “That’s obviously a tough, tough deal being the younger brother of a quarterback like Tua. But I do know this, at Thompson High School he put up a lot of numbers, threw the ball really accurately, has great athleticism in the pocket and is a winner. His accuracy is really what kind of jumps out to me as a passer.”
What jumped out to everyone else was a commitment that once was unthinkable.
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