Being the center of attention is nothing new for Tua Tagovailoa, but you would never know that by talking to him. So far in his career, he has faced every challenge and earned just about every accolade possible: The No. 1 high school football player in the state of Hawaii, back-to-back national title game appearances at Alabama (coming off the bench to lead a comeback victory in the first one), overcoming the adversity of a serious hip injury last fall and then being selected fifth overall by the Dolphins in April's draft. And throughout a tumultuous draft season, he remained soft spoken and humble.
The city of Miami was campaigning for the former Alabama star as early as January 2019. The first #TankForTua tweet was sent out on March 3, 2019 from a Dolphins fan account. Tagovailoa appreciates the love he's gotten from the city but feels like he has to earn it first.
“I think it's awesome when anyone embraces you,” Tagovailoa says. “It shows the kind of fan base that the Dolphins organization has here in Miami. But I think the other thing, too, is I haven't done anything yet. So it's awesome that you get all this love from some of the fans, but you know, before I can get any of this love or before I say I deserve it, I think I got to earn it first.”
Tagovailoa is the future of the Dolphins, a team that is in desperate need of a new star. The franchise finished 5-11 last season, last in the AFC East, while quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick split time. Both those quarterbacks are still on the roster, meaning Miami has the option of bringing Tagovailoa along slowly.
“I'm looking forward to helping our team this year in whatever way I can,” Tagovailoa told SI on how he fits on Miami's roster. “If that looks like me sitting on the sideline and Fitz is coming off a drive and it’s me just [telling him] what I saw, then that’s what it will look like. If they need me to play, then, that's what it would look like. But regardless, if it is on the field or off it, it's about whatever I can do to help the team.”
Tagovailoa was one of the most marketable names in the 2020 draft and landing in Miami has surely attracted brands that see him as a young star and a franchise cornerstone for the Dolphins. Before even stepping foot on an NFL field, he has racked up endorsement deals that include Adidas, Activision, Bose, Hulu, Wingstop, and Muscle Milk. Activision, which overseas the Call of Duty franchise, has developed a huge fan base in the NFL; Tagovailoa credits the game for having many similarities to football.
“I think Call of Duty has a lot of things that relates to the football field. You're talking about a game that allows you to work in teams. You're talking about strategy ... communication is a big aspect of what you do in Call of Duty and it can relate to the things you do on the football field.”
Tagovailoa also joined a stacked Adidas quarterback roster that includes Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rogers. He says the brand has always treated him like family and when the decision came to sign, it seemed natural.
Tua credits his marketing team for helping land major deals. He was the first in his family to go through this process and says he wouldn’t know what to do without them.
“My marketing team has worked very hard day in and day out to help me get a lot of these big deals,” Tagovailoa says. “They are very respected in the agency world. I think it makes it pretty easy for them to go out as well and kind of help market me ... I'm the first in my family to go through this process and that’s a reason why I have these guys to help me with marketing, contracts, financial advisors and things like that.”
The first thing that Tua did when he announced that he signed with the Dolphins was a plan to give back to the communities that raised him. He has started charitable outreach efforts in Hawaii, Alabama and Miami. He also announced the establishment of the Tagovailoa Family Saint Louis School scholarship endowment that will provide educational opportunities for students in Hawaii.
“I think that that's very important to give back. Pretty much because that's where I grew up, in Hawaii,” Tagovailoa says. “It’s something really big. You see a lot of people making it big and then they give back to their communities back home. In Hawaii, I always wanted to do something like that. But for me, my heart's been in many places. I've been in Hawaii. I got to be in Alabama and then now here in Miami. And so, during a crisis like this, with this pandemic, I have opportunity to help a lot of families, a lot of people that are really, really struggling. To be able to do something, I think that makes all the difference.”