NEW YORK - Most high school quarterbacks never get as close to the Heisman Trophy as Tua Tagovailoa once did.
Former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota became the first player from Hawaii to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Afterward, he went back to Saint Louis School in Honolulu, and brought the bronze figure. Tagovailoa was one of the students there.
"When you’re young, you have dreams and aspirations," Tagovailoa said, "and this is definitely one of my dreams to be able to come to New York, to be mentioned in the Heisman talk and to be a finalist with these other guys."
He wouldn't be the first player from Hawaii to leave New York with the trophy, but he'd still be the first Alabama quarterback to bring it back to Tuscaloosa. Alabama running backs Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry won the Heisman in 2009 and 2015, respectively. Quarterback AJ McCarron was the most recent quarterback contender, but fell well short of winner Jameis Winston in 2013.
The Crimson Tide has other aspirations this month as it prepares for a College Football Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29. But this weekend belongs to Tagovailoa and the other Heisman finalists. He spent Friday afternoon answering questions along with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
"We understand that at a certain point in the level of competition, we respect each other," Tagovailoa said. "I think that's the biggest thing that goes around in the collegiate level is respect."
Tagovailoa entered the season as one of the nation's top candidates for the award despite never starting a game, pushed into the limelight by his performance in the national championship against Georgia last season. He spent much of this fall as the betting favorite for the award as he broke most of Alabama's passing records. He said wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was the first one to suggest to him that he could win the Heisman sometime after six or seven games of Alabama's season.
His season turned last Saturday when he was injured and left the SEC Championship Game against Georgia after his worst showing of the season. He's expected to return for Alabama's playoff game, but Murray had overtaken him as the favorite earlier this week.
"I'm going to let the committee, the voters, let them handle all of that," he said. "I'm just grateful to be here and be named one of the finalists with Dwayne and Kyler."
He's already brought home plenty of hardware this season, including the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Award as the nation's best player. Murray was named AP Player of the Year and won the Davey O'Brien Award as the best quarterback in the country.
But Tagovailoa hasn't thought about what it would be like to win the award on Saturday, or watch one of his competitors take the trophy that was so close to his. He hasn't had much time to consider the possibilities.
"If I win it, it's awesome," he said. "If I don't, it's not the end of the world. We're just looking as a team to become the best we can be. We're just trying to win another one."
Back in 2014, Saint Louis School also had a watch party for the Heisman ceremony when Mariota won; Tagovailoa was watching on TV with his teammates. The school is planning another ceremony for Saturday night.
“It’s been a childhood dream to be able to be here," Tagovailoa said. "I’m here and now to be able to win it, I’d be able to represent something bigger than just myself, to be able to represent the University of Alabama, my team, my culture, Hawaii back home and everything that I stand for.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.