It’s a simple fact. Tua Tagovailoa–the quarterback who rewrote the record books at the University of Alabama, endeared himself to sports fans around the world, and was selected fifth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft–is one of the greatest college players to ever play the game.
Tagovailoa rose to prominence when he entered the 2017 national championship game at halftime as a true freshman and rallied Alabama to defeat SEC foe Georgia 26-23 on a gutsy, now legendary 3rd-and-26 pass to Devonta Smith in overtime. Tagovailoa’s celebrity shot through the stratosphere as he led the Crimson Tide to another national championship game the following season and smashed records–43 touchdowns in a single season, 87 career touchdowns–on his way to compiling a 22-2 overall record. Parents Galu and Diane Tagovailoa watched their son’s ascension to the top of the sports world from the stands, proud of not just his success but also of the way he gave glory to God and credit to his family. “Every time, the biggest thing that helped me was my faith. Praying through the series kept me calm,” Tua Tagovailoa said after his national championship-winning performance. “My poise comes from my faith. I just pray, asking God to let His will be done in me, and the rest will follow.”
Faith and Family. The Tagovailoa bond is built on faith and family, and grew from the insistence Galu and Diane had in raising Tua and their other children Taulia, Taylor Ann, and Taysia in the strongly-spiritual American Samoa tradition. “Family and faith are everything,” Galu (pronounced Na-loo) Tagovailoa said. “It’s part of our Samoa culture. We’re strongly taught back home that family is so important and how we stick together is everything.”
Diane was born in Hawaii and Galu Tagovailoa was born in American Samoa–an unincorporated U.S. territory located approximately 2500 miles south of the Hawaiian islands–and moved to the state when he was five. The couple settled in Ewa Beach, a small city on the island of Oahu and raised their children amongst a large extended biological and church family.
The community cheered Tua Tagovailoa on as he led Saint Louis High School in Honolulu to the 2016 state title and became the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit in the class of 2017; it then followed closely his journey to select a college destination.
Intertwined in the Tagovailoa’s family life is a reliance on religious values and church life. At Message of Peace Church in Ewa Beach, where Tua’s aunt and uncle serve as pastors, the Tagovailoa family raised their children on the values of Christ. At home, the family continued that spiritual upbringing, gathering every afternoon for prayer services in their home. “At 6 o’clock, we get together. Every afternoon,” Galu Tagovailoa said. “Our family gets together and prays. We rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us. And that’s the same thing we do here in Alabama.”
Tagovailoa said there’s no option to not practice faith; it’s integral to everything his family does. “Our faith comes from our upbringing,” he said. “In Samoa, church is everything. Everyone goes to church and we are together teaching our children the importance of church and God. We’ve done everything we can to continue to carry on that legacy with our children.”
With that faith comes an understanding, Tagovailoa said, that God can equip you with the values to get through any circumstances whether positive or negative. “Faith comes with a lot of important values,” he said “Love, respect, being kind, but also being honest and upfront. It also means knowing that you can glorify God through everything.”
That leaning on faith and family was on display throughout Tua’s years at the University of Alabama, and continued just this April when he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins. “I think the motivation for me getting this far is my family. It’s not just me out there. It’s me carrying my family’s name and everyone who’s helped me be who I am today,” he said at a press conference announcing that he’d forego his senior year to enter the draft. “I’ve heard my parents say many times that it takes a village to raise a child. When you get where you’re going, don’t forget to turn back around and help the next in line.”
Coming to Alabama. Tua Tagovailoa had his pick of offers to play collegiate football, but said ultimately that Southern hospitality and Nick Saban’s character were integral to his decision. As was a prophetic word given to him by a relative that he’d play football in Tuscaloosa.
The faith-based decision led the entire Tagovailoa immediate family to relocate to Alabama, where they settled in Alabaster and enrolled their younger children at Thompson High School. They also joined the Church of the Highlands, which Tua had discovered early in his move to Tuscaloosa and excitedly told his parents about.
Being close to their son was the only decision they felt comfortable making. “We love the Alabama people, we love it here, and it’s our home now,” Galu Tagovailoa said, noting that he has been uplifted and encouraged by the love extended toward Tua and his entire family. He takes that acceptance seriously, he said, and challenges everyone in his family to be real and true in their dealings with others–especially the Tide faithful. “We’re just regular people, and we don’t need to be lifted up because of what Tua’s doing. It shouldn’t change us, and it shouldn’t change what people think of us,” he said. “Fame won’t change the Tagovailoa family. We live in Christ, and are just so grateful for the platform so we can allow others to see what God has done for us.”
The attention thrust on the family grew with every new success achieved by Tua–but then took a different turn, when a devastating injury took Tagovailoa out of the 2019 matchup against Mississippi State. The dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture sidelined him for the rest of the season and put into question his future at Alabama and in the NFL.
Looking to the Future. Galu Tagovailoa said that the injury and ensuing uncertainty was a challenge–but that his family looked to God’s guidance through it, as in every other situation. He recalled waiting for Tua to wake up from the surgery to repair his hip injury, wondering what his son’s attitude and countenance would be. “When he woke up he asked me, ‘Are you all right? Is everything okay?’ He was worried about his mother,” he said. “He started laughing and singing. He had a positive attitude that he would continue to glorify God through everything.”
“With things like the injury, you want what’s best for your kid and your heart goes out to them,” he said. “But then you take a step back as parents and allow God to calm everything down and tell you, ‘That’s life. What are you going to do about it now?’” Tagovailoa said that experience reminded him that he can learn from his children. “It’s an uplifting feeling when you see those things in your kids. You learn a lot through them,” he said. “My wife cried, seeing him support us and support his team and brother and family. It was a beautiful thing.”
As Tua looks to his future in Miami, his father said that the message to his son is still the same–to honor God and use his reputation as a platform. “Tua knows he can’t let this fame and the things happening in his life change him and who he is as a Christian,” he said. “The most important thing is that now he has an even bigger platform for God. Look at the effect that he has. And we remind him about that, and also realize that we need to do the same thing. It goes both ways, and we have to be accountable to God as well.”
Cheryl Wray is a freelance writer who covers sports for the Alabama Media Group. She is the coordinator of the Southern Christian Writers Conference. Visit www.southernchristianwriters.com and join the “Southern Christian Writers Conference” Facebook Group.
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