Football stars find destiny as they dazzle sports world
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.