Tua Tagovailoa is orally committed to Alabama, and from all accounts at this time, he will likely sign on the dotted line with the Crimson Tide when national letter of intent day comes around in February.
But, as everybody knows, an oral commitment is not binding, so the recruiting process continues.
Enter Lane Kiffin, the Alabama offensive coordinator and the former coach at high-profile football teams such as the Oakland Raiders, USC and the University of Tennessee. He flew in to Honolulu on Thursday, just three days after Tagovailoa’s spoken commitment.
Kiffin was at the Crusaders’ no-pads practice Friday. He said hello, but that was it. He couldn’t talk about Tagovailoa due to NCAA rules and he couldn’t consent to any kind of interview due to Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban‘s rules.
It’s probably a little too far down in this story now, but here goes anyway for anyone who may need a reminder: Alabama is not just some football team. The Crimson Tide are national champions. … Make that 16-time national champions.
The fact that kicker Peter Kim is the only other Hawaii high school player to play for the Crimson Tide (1980 to ’82) makes the visit by Kiffin even more special. What is he doing here, you ask?
Well, let Tagovailoa’s talent speak for itself. After taking over the starting role from Ryder Kuhns in 2014, he has been nothing but a fireball of excitement as the starting left-handed quarterback, who, when he can, looks like a locomotive running back after he tucks the ball in his arm.
Hyperbole is easy when it comes to high school athletes, and yes, Tagovailoa hasn’t played a down in college yet, so we are all in a collective conversation about college potential. But, ask any discerning football observer and they’ll tell you he’s got all of the tools … and then some … as well as certain leadership intangibles that sometimes make the difference between an above-average quarterback and a star.
The road from Hawaii to Alabama is not quite in a paved condition … so, let’s just go with that saying, “We shall see” as a way to describe his future. And it’s very likely that, just as those words are strung together, we shall, indeed, see (his success with our own eyes).
Even though Kiffin didn’t talk, Crusaders offensive coordinator Ron Lee did, and so did one of Tagovailoa’s receivers, Ronson Young.
Lee had a bunch to say, so it’s worth getting it all down. Here goes:
“I’ve followed Lane Kiffin. I admire what he’s accomplished at such a young age. Also, the fact that he’s taken jobs that are tough. He’s coaching at the No. 1 team in the country and he’s been there going on three seasons, so he gets out of his comfort zone, his element, to take on these challenges, and he’s done a fabulous job. So, I think it’s a great decision (for Tua), not only for Kiffin, but also to play for Nick Saban. Peter Kim was my student when he was with Kaiser, and he was the last kid from Hawaii to go to Alabama for football. He had a scholarship to Hawaii and I told him, ‘Don’t do it.’ I’ll be the first to admit that. I said, ‘Why are you leaving UH. You got a scholarship and you’re going to walk on at Alabama. He said, ‘I wanted to play for the best team and Alabama was the best team.’ It would have been comfortable for Tua to go some place close.
“I like what Lane Kiffin does with the Alabama offense. They don’t make mistakes. I like the discipline that they play with. They utilize their talent. His play-calling is flawless. People don’t understand that it’s so hard to win games at any level. Even when we were winning all those Prep Bowls here at Saint Louis, we were winning games 17-3 or 21-14. We weren’t scoring 50 points every game.
“At Saint Louis, we throw so much, that opponents try to defend that. At Alabama, they won’t be able to do that. They have big, athletic receivers on the outside and they’ll give it to a running back who is 6-3, 240, with a brick wall of an offensive line. And then Tua with his arm and his accuracy, he’ll just make them so much better. And then, his running, so how are you going to defend that? He doesn’t just run you over, he can make you miss.”
Lee addressed Kiffin’s visit, too.
“They want to show that they want him,” he said. “Tua was excited when he saw Lane Kiffin watching him from the sidelines. It’s not over until he signs.”
And Young, the receiver, talked about Tagovailoa, his senior-to-be compatriot, who he had just finished catching some long-route balls from:
“We’ve been playing with Tua since freshman year, so it’s been a good ride with him. It’s been an experience. He’s taken us to states and almost winning. He’s an incredible quarterback, making reads. If you look at our plays, you make the wrong read and you’re kind of leaving guys out there hanging to dry. I’m glad he’s our quarterback. I wouldn’t want it to be anybody else. He’s really close to God. Before games, he brings a few of us together and we pray over the game. I know he’s an amazing person, and he believes in the same things I believe in. He wants to win just as bad. He’s a hard worker, works year round. Football can end and then the next day he’s out there working again.”