Much was asked of the young campers.
Much was given in return. When the wind arrived after a boiling-hot morning on the turf of Skippa Diaz Stadium, so did a light sprinkle. Just in time for 7-on-7 battles. By 2:30 p.m., six hours of combine work — plus lunch — were in the books at the Polynesian Bowl Combine.
For Galu Tagovailoa, there is nothing quite like being back home — and coaching quarterbacks. The former Ewa Beach Sabers coach and father of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in his element as dozens of aspiring passers were in active mode with hours of work.
“It’s just nice to come back and see these kids, and they understand the grind. At one point, we were here. But we want to be here now to kind of make them understand if we can do it anybody else can do it from the islands,” he said.
There were years of development for Tua and younger brother Taulia Tagovailoa, training year round, spending Sunday afternoons back at Ewa Beach District Park. Tua would take the wheel at times, directing keiki as young as 8 or 9, sharing his knowledge of mechanics and technique.
“The best part of back then was understanding where you come from. Understanding the hard work, just pushing through. Nowadays, you tend to enjoy the fruits of your labor, everything with your kids. It’s just a blessing. One thing that never changes is our faith in the Lord, allowing the Lord to just carry us through,” the coach said.
From Miami, Maryland — where Taulia plays — and Alabama, the Tagovailoa ohana followed their sons. They also kept track of the prep and youth football environment back in the islands through the pandemic.
“It started with my kids and it grew with their friends, and the players that wanted to come out and get extra work. It’s just sad this past year that Hawaii didn’t have football. The state was completely shut down. I feel for the seniors that left, never really had that opportunity to show their skills, but at the same time, it’s part of life. It’s adversity, understanding that this how things are going to be in life. We have to be able to cope with it, to kind of have a Plan B,” Tagovailoa said.
There were many alternate plans. Athletes running cone drills and passing routes alone and with teammates on empty fields. Training in makeshift, homemade gyms. Running on roads and beaches early in the morning. Where there was no organized football for a long stretch, dedication remained.
“It’s amazing. During a pandemic, these kids sacrifice and work out at the parks on their own, wanting to get better. That’s something you’ll never see from anywhere else.” Tagovailoa said.
He and wife Diane, along with their children, remained busy, of course. Raising Champions was born to train young athletes in a path of faith.
“Raising Champions is about raising kids on and off the field, not only being leaders on and off the field, but also their spiritual side. Their faith, understanding that they can’t do things without the Holy Spirit, without our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Raising them to be Christ-like, yet be good people, good citizens, always giving back,” Tagovailoa said.
As sports and activities return to a certain degree of normalcy, so does the varying level of competition.
“One thing, we understand the Lord is like with parents, everything is about meeting halfway. We don’t pray for wins. We pray for safety. We pray for a good game. The win comes with what you put in. You put in the hard work, you’re going to get your results,” Tagovailoa said. “If you look at it, you’ve got a team across of you praying as much as you’re praying. I’m pretty sure they’re praying for a win, but we pray for safety. To win is on you. It’s the work that you put out.”
Some athletes might not have the level of support that the Tagovailoas and other families have for their young ones.
“Our culture is a very respectful culture. Everything is about honoring your parents and honoring the Lord. Sometimes, some parents don’t see their kids as football players. They don’t see that their kids can make it. It’s up to the individual to show and put out that work. You’re always going to have coaches and kids out there that want to work, but it comes down to you as an individual to go out and support your guys and work,” he said.
For those who aren’t allowed to play football, or sports, at a young age, it is about patience.
“That’s a tough one. Some of these kids, as much as they want to play, when their parents tell them no, no is no. That’s just honoring their parents’ word. I can’t really speak on that. I can only speak on what I’ve done with my kids when they were young. My goal was to have them be good football players. I didn’t know they were going to turn out the way they are, but that’s just putting our faith in the Lord that allowed us to drive to where we are now,” Tagovailoa said.
There has been time to relax and breathe. There is also something churning that hasn’t stopped.
“In life, you can never be satisfied. The grind is always there no matter what level you’re at. I loved it when he was in high school and when he was young,” he said of Tua. “I had more hands on with him and working with him. I also love it that he’s at the pro level where it’s not too much hands on, but a lot of mental stuff with him, talking with both of them. At the same time, I get to learn. I get to learn through them and what they’re going through and what we talk about as building that father and son relationship and understanding. My coaching is done, but also at the same time, I’m getting coached up to learn and understand how they go through things at a professional level and also a college level.”
Being a coach and parent of high-level athletes is an unique education.
“At the high school level and with the younger ones, they’re going to get a lot of learning. Once you get to college, especially with big schools, you’re going to get your coaching, but everything is about installing. Installing your playbook, understanding, reading. There’s not too much fundamental stuff, but I can see why. It’s a huge program and they want to get things going, plus they recruited you because of what they saw. They’re going to fix little things that you have, but so much of the coaching starts here. A lot of the coaching starts at this level,” he said.
Tagovailoa has seen the same dilemma as other coaches in youth football. There’s a tipping point of no return in most cases of non-traditional passers.
“At the high school level, because these kids are being coached by all different coaches, it’s so hard to try and change their throwing mechanics. What you want to do is help them and try to fix what you can fix. Once they’re stuck with how they throw the ball, you just fix the little things that they’re working with. We’re not here to change their throwing,” he said. “I have a certain way of teaching my kids on their accuracy and how they throw. I’m pretty sure a lot of the coaches out here have a different way of how they teach their kids with throwing, but you want to support the coaches out here, too, with how they do things. It’s not just about how I coach, but what they do and we want to support and help out.”
The busy life of parents with two prominent quarterbacks hasn’t changed the essence of who they are.
“We live a life where, who we are as Polynesian people, I’m not going to drive down here with a Mercedes or live that rich and famous life. It’s not us. We’re always about giving back to families, giving back to the community and helping out. Money and fame will never change who we are as the Tagovailoas. That’s where we stand with everything,” he said. “It’s such a blessing. I can’t be more thankful to the Lord for everything that he’s done to bless our family and bless our kids with the talent that they have. One thing about coaches is, we can only coach and guide, right? It’s really up to the kids on what they put up. I give the kids the credit to come out and work hard. You’re only as good as what you put out.”
Diane Tagovailoa helped oversee the recent luau fundraiser in Alabama for the Tua Foundation. The event raised $400,000 and featured the elements that make a big luau memorable.
“They were amazed. The show was legit, like a mini Polynesian show you would see at PCC. Fire knife dancers, the whole works,” she said. “That’s why we have the foundation crew.”
The menu included kalua pig, chicken long rice, sweet potato, and guava chiffon and haupia cake. Plans are in the works for a luau in Miami, and another luau next spring in Tuscaloosa.
Meanwhile, husband and wife are enjoying their stay back home, literally back home.
“We’re staying with my mom and dad,” she said.