No. 1 ranked Alabama plays at Ole Miss Saturday. We’re talking the school of Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Snake Stabler against the school of Chunkin’ Charlie Conerly, Jake Gibbs and Archie Manning.
Only this time, it’s Alabama’s Tuanigamanuolepola “Tua” Tagovailoa against Ole Miss’s Jordan Ta’amu. What are the odds? Ole Miss vs. Alabama. Hawaiian vs. Hawaiian.
Know this: Bama’s Tagovailoa and Ole Miss’s Ta’amu have come a long, long way to present multiple problems for Deep South sports writers, sportscasters and opposing defenses. Sports writers have to spell their names. Sportscasters have to pronounce their names. Defenses have to stop them. None of that is easy.
So far this season, sports writers and sportscasters have had far more success than defenses, who have had little success at all.
Ta’amu has completed 45 of 65 passes for seven touchdowns without an interception. Tagolvailoa has completed 25 of 35 passes for 455 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.
The two have been almost atoatoa. Atoatoa, you say? That’s Samoan for perfect. Both Tagovailoa and Ta’amu are throwin’ Samoans. And both can hurt you running, as well.
And that’s where the similarities end.
The two Samoans have taken decidedly different paths to their current stations in life and football.
Tagovailoa was a much-sought-after, four-star prospect out of Saint Louis High School in Honolulu. Ta’amu did not have a Division I scholarship offer out of smaller Pearl City High, also in Honolulu, and went to a New Mexico junior college first.
Tagovailoa, who turned 20 in March, could have gone anywhere in the country to play college football, including Ole Miss, which recruited him hard. In fact, Tagovailoa flew 4,000 miles to visit Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn on one recruiting trip. He narrowed his college choices to Alabama, Ole Miss, Southern Cal and UCLA before choosing Bama.
Ta’amu, who turned 20 in December, reportedly received a couple partial Division II scholarship offers and one junior college offer out of high school. After two years – only one as the starter – at New Mexico Military, Ta’amu chose Ole Miss over Minnesota and New Mexico.
Former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze recruited both Tagovailoa and Ta’amu for the Rebels. He is far from surprised with the success of both.
“Tua was a no-brainer, and we went after him really, really hard,” Freeze said. “We thought we had as good’a chance as anybody. We had a great relationship with him and his family. They are a faith-based family and I thought we really connected. In the end, he ended up at the only school I thought could beat us on him. He’s every bit as good as we thought he was when we were recruiting him.”
Ta’amu? Now that’s a different story entirely.
Freeze’s connections in Hawaii go all the way back to when he was a head coach at tiny Lambuth, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. Ben Aigumoua, an American-Samoan, played for Freeze at Lambuth and later joined his staff at Ole Miss.
“When I was at Lambuth we went over to the islands and signed 11 kids,” Freeze said. “We made great connections over there.”
While everybody and his brother in college football knew about Tagovailoa, Freeze and the Ole Miss staff also knew about Ta’amu at the smaller high school.
“We liked him, we just weren’t sure,” Freeze said.
After watching tape on Ta’amu his sophomore year at New Mexico Military, Freeze was sure.
“We wanted him but we already has Shea Patterson,” Freeze said. “It wasn’t the easiest pitch because everybody just assumed Shea was the Ole Miss quarterback of the future. We told Jordan he would have a chance to come in and compete.”
When Patterson went down with a torn ligament in his knee in the seventh game last season, Ta’amu got his chance and made the most of it. Now many observers – this one included – believe Ta’amu is a more accurate passer and perhaps a better overall quarterback than Patterson.
Freeze won’t go there. “I’ll just say Jordan throws the deep ball as accurately as anyone I’ve seen throw it,” Freeze says.
Saturday, Ta’amu faces the sternest test of his brief college career against a No. 1 ranked team on national television. That he makes it against a fellow Hawaiian has to make it all the more special.