University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban rarely cracks a smile on the sidelines, but he couldn’t suppress a grin when his star quarterback told him during a timeout he wanted to keep playing in a blowout against Mississippi State two weeks ago. Tua Tagovailoa, a junior and a projected first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft, was nursing a sore right ankle and his backup, sophomore Mac Jones, could have used some more time under center, but Saban embraced his quarterback’s enthusiasm and agreed to leave him in.
“That was going to be his last series,” Saban told ESPN after the game. “We were going to do [the] two-minute [drill] before the half with him, just for practice.”
Two plays later, the left-hander who led the Crimson Tide to the national championship two years ago and a runner-up finish last year, was writhing on the ground in severe pain. Two Bulldogs had driven Tagovailoa into the ground. Unable to move the right side of his body, he was carted off the field with clenched teeth and a bloody nose. According to ESPN reporter Molly McGrath, Tagovailoa screamed in pain when the training staff removed him from the stretcher near the locker room. He then was transported by helicopter to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Birmingham.
Tagovailoa will miss the remainder of the season, including Saturday’s game against in-state rival Auburn, with a dislocated hip.
With another possible run at a national championship and a promising pro career on the horizon, Tagovailoa had every reason to show contempt with this latest setback. But instead of succumbing to bitterness, he leaned on his faith as demonstrated by this optimistic tweet sent later that night: “Thank you for the prayers and well wishes! God always has a plan.”
Tagovailoa’s Christianity isn’t breaking news. He first proclaimed it to the world when he thanked his “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” during a postgame interview after delivering the game-winning pass in the 2018 College Football Playoff title game against Georgia.
Fellow athletes have shown support for Tagovailoa since the injury, including former Alabama and NFL running back Shaun Alexander, who tweeted praise for Tagovailoa’s ability to see God’s sovereignty in the lows of being injured and the highs of a national championship victory: “My confidence in life is not in my gifts, abilities, awards or accomplishments. My confidence comes from my faith in Jesus. His plan is perfect. Every part of the plan is PERFECT. Love you Tuaman. Walk through this like you was built to. Finish the Game. A legend is being made.”
Nonetheless, the injury jeopardizes Tagovailoa’s NFL draft ranking, which fell from No. 2 overall to No. 13, which translates into potentially losing out on millions of dollars. Some experts recommended that the 21-year-old from Hawaii return to Tuscaloosa for his final college season to improve his draft stock despite the injury risks it poses.
“If you’re a second-round pick, you don’t have that guaranteed money,” ESPN analyst Emmanuel Acho said. “If you’re a first-round pick, you do have that guaranteed money. I’m not for college athletes going back typically, but Tua has more to gain by going back.”
In the NFL, pay exponentially decreases the farther down you go in the draft. In this year’s draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected former Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray No. 1, giving him $58.5 million in guaranteed money. The Washington Redskins, with the 15th pick, chose Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who collected $22.9 million.
Tagovailoa’s surgery was successful, according to Alabama’s team orthopedic surgeon Lyle Cain, who said that his “prognosis is excellent.” If rehabilitation goes as planned, Tagovailoa could be throwing the football as early as next spring.