Foot­ball stars find des­tiny as they daz­zle sports world

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - DAVID SHAPIRO Reach David Shapiro at vol­cani­

All I can say two weeks into 2018 is thank good­ness for Mar­cus Mar­i­ota, Tua Tago­v­ailoa and McKen­zie Milton. There’s spe­cial pride in Hawaii when our own shine in the na­tional spot­light, and the three stel­lar quar­ter­backs gave us much to cheer in a new year oth­er­wise grim with re­ports of high liv­ing costs, poor job op­por­tu­ni­ties and lo­cals flee­ing the state to make ends meet.

Mar­i­ota is a Hawaii icon af­ter com­ing out of Saint Louis School to lead the Univer­sity of Ore­gon to the na­tional cham­pi­onship game and win the Heis­man Tro­phy as col­lege foot­ball’s best player.

In his third and health­i­est year in the NFL, he led the Ten­nessee Ti­tans to their first play­off ap­pear­ance since 2008 and their first play­off win since 2003 in a come­back vic­tory over the Kansas City Chiefs. While his sea­son stats were so-so, he made the big plays when needed, such as catch­ing his own de­flected pass for a crit­i­cal touch­down against the Chiefs, which has hap­pened only once be­fore in NFL his­tory. Mar­i­ota in­spired scouts to look to Hawaii for more than line­men and it ben­e­fited fel­low Saint Louis grad Tago­v­ailoa and Milton, who was re­cruited to the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida by Mar­i­ota’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Ore­gon. Tago­v­ailoa could have gone nearly any­where and played im­me­di­ately, but he took the chal­lenge of sign­ing with Alabama, which had gone to the na­tional cham­pi­onship game the year be­fore and had an es­tab­lished sopho­more quar­ter­back.

He sat out most of his fresh­man sea­son, but his num­ber was called in the sec­ond half of last week’s na­tional cham­pi­onship game against Ge­or­gia with Alabama down 13 points. Hawaii’s co­conut wire­less went wild with news that “Tua’s in” and even many who care lit­tle about foot­ball tuned in as Tago­v­ailoa’s three touch­down passes and daz­zling runs led Alabama to a 26-23 over­time win.

His hu­mil­ity af­ter the game im­pressed al­most as much as his play, and it’s look­ing likely he’ll be a Heis­man can­di­date like Mar­i­ota be­fore his ca­reer is over. Milton, con­sid­ered un­der­sized and in­jury prone, wasn’t heav­ily re­cruited de­spite lead­ing Mililani High to a state cham­pi­onship. He ini­tially com­mit­ted to the Univer­sity of Hawaii, but af­ter his prospects dimmed in a coach­ing change, he took a leap of faith to UCF, which was 0-12 the year be­fore.

With Milton as its pro­lific play­maker, two years later UCF went 13-0 and beat sev­enth-rated Auburn in this year’s Peach Bowl, fin­ish­ing as the na­tion’s only un­de­feated team.

In a way, th­ese three are a mi­cro­cosm of Hawaii lo­cals who have to move away to find their des­tiny.

It makes you think what we could be if we’d ever solve the prob­lems that force so many of our best — ath­let­i­cally and oth­er­wise — to seek op­por­tu­nity else­where.

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