Tago­v­ailoa named Camp Player of Year

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS - By Chip Malafronte

The events of Satur­day’s SEC foot­ball cham­pi­onship fol­lowed an eerily sim­i­lar script to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off Na­tional Cham­pi­onship Game.

In Jan­uary, Tua Tago­v­ailoa re­placed Jalen Hurts to lead a big se­cond-half Alabama come­back over Ge­or­gia for the na­tional ti­tle. On Satur­day, Hurts re­turned the fa­vor as the Crim­son Tide again came from be­hind to beat Ge­or­gia for the SEC ti­tle, lock­ing up the top seed in this year’s play­off.

“That’s a movie, right there,” Tago­v­ailoa said Thurs­day by phone, a few hours be­fore be­ing named the Wal­ter Camp Player of the Year at col­lege foot­ball’s

awards show in At­lanta.

“You couldn’t tell me I was go­ing into se­cond half of na­tional cham­pi­onship game and we were go­ing to win the game, only for me to leave this year and Jalen would bring us back in the fourth quar­ter. I mean, re­ally. That’s a movie.”

The next plot twist is any­one’s guess.

Alabama is hope­ful Tago­v­ailoa can re­cover from an­kle surgery ear­lier this week in time for a semi­fi­nal game with Ok­la­homa on Dec. 29. If not, there’s a ca­pa­ble con­tin­gency plan in Hurts.

Tago­v­ailoa’s surgery to re­pair a high an­kle sprain is con­sid­ered mi­nor, though three weeks is a quick turn­around. He tooled around At­lanta on a knee scooter and re­ceived treat­ment from team train­ers in his ho­tel room in the hours be­fore the ESPN broad­cast.

“In my mind, I’ll be ready to play,” Tago­v­ailoa said. “I’m work­ing on get­ting bet­ter every day with ther­apy in treat­ment. We have to use up every se­cond and every minute we can to get this

thing bet­ter.”

Some have won­dered whether the in­jury cost Tago­v­ailoa his shot at be­com­ing the first Alabama quar­ter­back to win the Heis­man Tro­phy. Tago­v­ailoa will be in New York on Satur­day for the pre­sen­ta­tion along with fel­low fi­nal­ists Kyler Mur­ray of Ok­la­homa and Dwayne Hask­ins of Ohio State.

It could be­come one of the clos­est votes in his­tory. Tago­v­ailoa and Mur­ray are con­sid­ered co-fa­vorites, both more than wor­thy.

The New Haven-based Wal­ter Camp Award, also for the na­tional player of the year, has mir­rored the Heis­man win­ner each of the past five years. Tago­v­ailoa was con­sid­ered the fa­vorite lead­ing into Satur­day. But vot­ers, whose bal­lots were due Mon­day evening, may have been swayed af­ter Tago­v­ailoa played through an ear­lier in­jury Satur­day be­fore leav­ing for good in the fourth quar­ter.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, Mur­ray was named the As­so­ci­ated Press player of the year. Tago­v­ailoa was ap­pre­cia­tive of the Wal­ter Camp Award.

“It means a lot,” Tago­v­ailoa said. “Just to be nom­i­nated for any award is awe­some. To win one, to have some­thing like this un­der my belt now, I’m grate­ful. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the peo­ple sur­round­ing me, start­ing with my team­mates and coaches.”

At Alabama, Tago­v­ailoa made the most of spo­radic duty as a fresh­man last fall un­til an­swer­ing the call from coach Nick Sa­ban on the game’s big­gest stage. With the Crim­son Tide of­fense suf­fer­ing in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game, Sa­ban benched starter Jalen Hurts at half­time in fa­vor of Tago­v­ailoa.

Down 13-0 to Ge­or­gia, Tago­v­ailoa helped force over­time, where, on 2ndand-26, he threw the gamewin­ning 41-yard touch­down pass to cap­ture an­other na­tional ti­tle for Alabama.

He beat out Hurts for the start­ing job to start the sea­son, and has been mag­nif­i­cent. He’s com­pleted 67 per­cent of passes for 3,353 yards, 37 touch­downs and four in­ter­cep­tions for the No. 1 Crim­son Tide. He’s also run for 892 yards and 11 touch­downs.

It could turn out to be quite the cal­en­dar year for Tago­v­ailoa. He won a na­tional cham­pi­onship as a true fresh­man and has the Crim­son Tide poised to win an­other to go with his Wal­ter Camp Award and, pos­si­bly, the Heis­man.

“Things have been mov­ing quickly, but I never re­ally took the time to soak it in and en­joy,” Tago­v­ailoa said. “I don’t think it’s some­thing I can en­joy un­til once the sea­son’s over.”

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Im­ages

Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa was named the Wal­ter Camp Player of the Year on Thurs­day.

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