Miami Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa holds fellow Hawaiian Marcus Mariota in highest regard

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) celebrates a fourth quarter touchdown at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, December 20, 2020.

As the story goes, Tua Tagovailoa once hung a poster of Marcus Mariota on the wall in his family's living room.

"He was a big role model for a lot of us kids back home," Tagovailoa said. "Marcus has a big legacy. Marcus is a person people looked up to as a player and a human being."

Tagovailoa is a 22-year-old rookie quarterback for the Dolphins. Mariota is a 27-year-old quarterback for the Raiders.

Their teams will face off on NFL Network, Saturday night at 8:15 p.m.

Tagovailoa and Mariota are Hawaiians, each having starred at St. Louis School in Honolulu. They first met at a passing camp, when Tua was in the fourth grade.

According to Vinny Passas, who coached both quarterbacks in high school, Mariota told Tagovailoa: "Just hang in there! Keep throwing!"

Passas said Tagovailoa fit right in with older quarterbacks and receivers and that Mariota's encouragement was essential.

"He's a humble guy, hard worker, he was one of the guys that took me under his wing," Tagovailoa said. "I threw with the high schoolers as a fourth-grader. Everyone was wondering, 'Why are you throwing with us?' From there I really looked up to him. He's really been the same person."

Tua owned an Oregon jersey as a youth. In 2015, Tagovailoa watched Mariota’s moving Heisman speech from back in Honolulu.

But Tua chose his own path, of course, eventually winning a national championship at Alabama. Mariota was once the second pick in the draft, by the Tennessee Titans. Tagovailoa was the fifth pick, by Miami.

Mariota has spoken occasionally with Tagovailoa, explaining the importance of maintaining focus amid great attention. He also told Tua he would be available to him at any time.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) celebrates a fourth quarter touchdown at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, December 20, 2020.

In 2014, Mariota was named Polynesian College Football Player of the Year.

"I hope this opens doors for many Polynesian athletes," Mariota said.

 In 2018 and '19, Tagovailoa won the same award.

Tagovailoa and Mariota are both known as selfless teammates who demonstrate humility, strong work habits and a deep respect for others.

"I think it's something really cool being that me and Marcus are both of Samoan heritage and we come from Hawaii," Tagovailoa said. "His dad is Samoan. Both my parents are Samoan. It's something super cool for the kids to see back home in Hawaii."

Tagovailoa noted that Miami linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is also close to Mariota. 

As a rookie in Tennessee, Mariota was 3-9 with 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 91.5.

Mariota signed with the Raiders this offseason as a backup to Derek Carr. He relieved Carr after the veteran injured a groin, and performed well in relief during the Raiders' loss to the Chargers on Dec. 17.

As a Dolphins rookie, Tagovailoa is 5-2 with 9 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a passer rating of 92.5. Asked about Mariota and Tagovailoa, Miami coach Brian Flores said they're both talented.

"They’ve had a lot of success throughout their careers, lives," Flores said. "From what I know about Marcus, this is somebody who embodies a lot of the characteristics that we’re looking for in a football player. Tough, smart, team-first. Obviously Tua is that same way."

Saturday's game

Dolphins at Raiders, 8:15 p.m., NFL

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