The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii Prep World sportswriters were at least a little surprised early last season when Saint Louis coach Cal Lee told one of them that sophomore Tua Tagovailoa was named the starting quarterback to replace incumbent senior starter Ryder Kuhns.
Kuhns put up fine numbers (2,016 yards and 25 touchdowns passing) as a junior and was off to a fast start as a senior.
In came Tagovailoa, the dual runnning and passing threat, and he went on to post 2,571 yards and 33 TDs through the air as well as 553 yards and eight TDs rushing, leading Saint Louis to the ILH championship game.
Crusaders quarterback coach Vince Passas, the man behind the legion of great signal-callers who have come out of the Catholic school known for its powerful football team, believes Tagovailoa is right there with the best he has coached.
Passas rattled off the lineage during a practice session on campus last Wednesday (not necessarily in any order and possibly missing a few names): “John Hao, Joel Lane, Darnell Arceneaux, Timmy Chang, Bobby George, Jason Gesser, Cameron Higgins, Jeremy Higgins, Jeremiah Masoli, Marcus Mariota.”
Passas had a lot more to say about Tagovailoa, but first, let’s move on to what Hao said when the first-year Kahuku offensive coordinator was interviewed on Thursday for an upcoming preview story on the Red Raiders, one of Saint Louis’ biggest rivals through the years.
Hao was asked to rate Tagovailoa against all of the others, including himself.
“He’s the best,” was his simple answer.
OK, so, Hao tells us that Tagovailoa is a better high school quarterback than Mariota, who won the 2014 Heisman Trophy, was drafted No. 2 overall by the Tennessee Titans of the NFL and was just named the starter for the upcoming 2015 season.
That’s a mighty tasty mouthful for all football fans in Hawaii.
Back to Passas: “Tua’s an amazing person, athlete and football player. We are blessed for him to come our way. He fits the mold to be successful so our whole program can be successful.
“He’s been coming to my quarterback camps since he was 8 and his skills are progressing in a way that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.”
Passas didn’t go as far as placing Tagovailoa — who already has 15 FBS Division I college offers — ahead of the others mentioned above. The boy has two full seasons remaining. But Passas did add, “He’s doing a great job up to this point.”
During an interview after Thursday’s practice, Tagovailoa told Hawaii Prep World all about his brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, who is a freshman quarterback on the Kapolei varsity team.
Well before the end of last season, the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii Prep World staff members knew exactly why Lee put Tagovailoa in as the starter. With so much quickness and speed, he was hard to catch, but his accuracy and field generalship was off the charts for a sophomore.
And if anyone wondering just what the soft-spoken Tagovailoa is like, this will give you a fairly good illustration: When told about the newspaper staffers’ perception of his ability last year, he said, “Thank you, I really appreciate that” at least five times in a one-minute span.