NEW YORK, NEW YORK (HawaiiNewsNow) - On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Honolulu almost exactly four years ago, a 14-year-old quarterback from Saint Louis School watched one of his role models win college football’s most prestigious awards.
As Marcus Mariota walked across a stage in New York City, shaking hands with the legion of former Heisman Trophy honorees that attend the ceremony every year, Tua Tagovailoa – then a sophomore on the slopes of Kalaepohaku – stood in awe of Mariota’s accomplishment.
“I can speak for everybody else as well, I mean, people that don’t even play the position as quarterback,” Tagovailoa told Hawaii News Now, in an interview conducted that afternoon in 2014. “People try to act like Marcus, not only on the field, but off the field as well.”
That Tagovailoa has an opportunity to become Hawaii’s second Heisman Trophy winner in four years is a testament too many elements – his family, his faith, his coaches back home in Hawaii. But it’s also a testament to the role that Mariota played in his football development.
In camps at Saint Louis, Marcus mentored a young Tagovailoa, already considered by most of Hawaii’s football minds to be a quarterback prodigy.
Tua’s coaches are acutely aware of the influence Mariota had on the player who may soon join him in among the ranks of Heisman winners.
“Yeah, I mean, they are in the same boat. They’re like twins,” says Cal Lee, who coached Tagovailoa to a state championship with the Crusaders. “Marcus just projects the humility, the hard work, the what-it-takes… He makes Hawaii proud of what he’s done, and Tua is in the same boat.
Vinny Passas – the so-called quarterback whisperer of Hawaii, who taught both Tagovailoa and Mariota the intricacies of the position – sees a clear connection between the two.
“Marcus was a big influence on (a then grade-school aged Tagovailoa), just telling him to (throw with the older kids at the Saint Louis camps), don’t worry about them, just keep throwing,” said Passas. “He’s always been that way.”
A Heisman Trophy triumph on Saturday would propel Tagovailoa into the rarefied air currently occupied only by his role model.