On Monday, Tagovailoa accomplished one thing Mariota never did: lead his program to a national championship. And Mariota couldn't be happier.
Mariota stayed up a little past his bedtime to see Tagovailoa, a friend he has kept in touch with since high school, take down Georgia after entering the game at halftime when coach Nick Saban decided to bench starter Jalen Hurts. Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide from down 13-0 to force overtime. In OT, he bounced back from a sack that lost 16 yards on first down to orchestrate a game-winning, 41-yard touchdown one play later and deliver a 26-23 victory and an Alabama championship.
"Tua is a stud. He's the next guy coming up. Proud of him," Mariota said. "From where that kid's come, how he's grown and how he handled the situation last night. He's very special. Hopefully he can continue his success. I'm sure you guys saw the interview after the game. That's who he is."
Tagovailoa has already earned a "little Mariota" label and drawn Russell Wilson comparisons due to his dual-threat ability, even-keeled demeanor and incredible humility off the field. Tagovailoa showed some of the moxie that Mariota displayed in his 22-21 comeback victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card playoff game last week.
It has been a great January already for Hawaiian quarterbacks Tagovailoa, Mariota and McKenzie Milton of UCF. Tagovailoa and Mariota went to Saint Louis High School in Honolulu, while Milton went to nearby Mililani High School in Mililani, Hawaii. All three led their current teams to big wins.
"It's nice to see someone like him continue to carry the torch from back home," said Mariota, who sent Tagovailoa a congratulatory text message Monday night. "He's got a bright future, and I wish him nothing but the best."
Mariota began taking Tagovailoa under his wing in fourth grade, showing him some quarterback tips and even taking him to get food after practices. Tagovailoa followed Mariota in attending Saint Louis High School. The 19-year-old lefty quarterback also had dreams to attend Oregon like Mariota but set his heart on Alabama when the Ducks took too long to show interest.
"Everybody would kind of look at me different, but the one person who stood out was Marcus," Tagovailoa told OregonLive in 2014. "He didn't really separate me from everybody. He would teach me. While everyone else said, 'Get out of the way,' Marcus would just pull me aside -- and he was one of the best quarterbacks there. Just to get taught by him and him giving me attention I didn't deserve, it was just awesome."
Mariota, in typical fashion, refused to take credit.
"He's done it all himself," he said. "Where he gets his humility is from his family. How he carries himself is from where we grew up. I hope he uses this as motivation to continue to get better and see how far he can take it."
Maybe Tagovailoa's performance will give Mariota a little more juice to pull off another memorable performance Saturday night at New England.