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Who is Tua Tagovailoa? 5 things to know about Alabama’s freshman QB

Tua Tagovailoa, the University of Alabama's heralded five-star quarterback from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, threw the winning 41-yard touchdown in overtime early Tuesday to give Alabama its fifth national championship in nine years.

>> Alabama beats Georgia to win College Football Playoff National Championship

Below are five things to know about Tagovailoa:

>> Previously on SECCountry.com: Highly touted freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa makes debut for Alabama

1. Tua Tagovailoa is Hawaii’s all-time leading passer

The nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2017 became Hawaii’s career leader in passing yards, as he eclipsed former Saint Louis High School (Honolulu) quarterback Timmy Chang’s record of 8,001 yards. Tagovailoa left Hawaii with 8,158 passing yards and 84 touchdowns along with 1,727 rushing yards and 27 scores to give him 111 career touchdowns.

>> PHOTOS: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Georgia Bulldogs

Tagovailoa willed the Saint Louis Crusaders to a 30-14 win in the state championship game against Kahuku, the No. 1 team in the state, at Aloha Stadium in his final game of high school.

>> On SECCountry.com: Watch highlights of Tagovailoa’s performance and celebration in his final high school game

2. He won the prestigious Elite 11 MVP

Tagovailoa was named the Elite 11 MVP, which is one of the most prestigious awards a prep quarterback can receive, in the summer of 2016. Tagovailoa became the second Alabama quarterback to win the award, as former Tide signal-caller Blake Barnett won in 2014.

>> Visit AJC.com for complete coverage of the national championship game

3. USC was his dream school growing up 

USC was Tagovailoa’s leader to get his commitment for more than a year before Alabama came calling. USC was the school Tagovailoa saw himself attending.

That changed when his family made a southern swing where he saw Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss. He fell in love with Alabama. After that visit in the spring of 2016, the Crimson Tide became the behind-the-scenes favorite until he committed in May 2016.

>> More coverage from DawgNation.com

4. He’s roommates with Najee Harris

Tagovailoa and Najee Harris, a Class of 2017 five-star running back out of Antioch (Calif.) High School, developed a strong bond when they were recruits. The friendship really took off when both were at Nike’s The Opening camp in Oregon, which is where Tagovailoa was given the Elite 11 MVP.

“He’s an awesome guy — a great guy,” Harris told SEC Country in July 2016. “I went to his room to go over some plays, and we ended up talking about God. He’s just a great person. I have much respect to Tua.”

Both Tagovailoa and Harris are deeply committed to their faith.

>> Visit WSBTV.com for more Georgia Bulldogs news

5. His brother, Taulia, is a Class of 2019 Alabama QB target

Tagovailoa isn’t the only impressive football player in the family. His brother, Taulia, is rated as the nation’s No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class. He already holds an Alabama offer.

Taulia wanted to commit to Alabama when he received an offer from the Tide in July 2016, but his parents told him that he was too young to make a big decision like that. But that hasn’t stopped Taulia from thinking about Alabama nonstop. When asked if he still wanted to play for the Tide, Taulia responded immediately.

>> Read more trending news 

“Oh, heck yeah,” Taulia told SEC Country. “When Tua went up there, he didn’t want to come back home. He came back and was telling me all of these crazy things like how he got to meet Coach [Nick] Saban. I have only seen that guy in movies it seems like, and for me to see him taking pictures with Mom, Dad and Tua, it was just crazy.”

NCAA championship: Brothers Calvin, Riley Ridley to face each other as rivals

They haven’t talked all week, and they’re not going to. Not until after the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

“I’ll probably give him a hug, text him, start back everything,” Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley said. “We’re brothers, you know.”

>> Read more trending news 

While a lot is being made of the numerous relationships between the coaches, including of Nick Saban squaring off against his former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, no one in the title game has a stronger bond than Alabama junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley and his younger brother Riley.

“I want him to do good … but I want us to win,” Calvin said.

Although the brothers say that they’re close, and are usually in touch, they’ve put that on hold. Usually they’re often in contact, either though texts or phone calls, but after what they called a normal Christmas back home in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area, they sort of went their own ways for a bit.

>> Visit WSBTV.com for more Georgia Bulldogs news

They had enough to worry about in dealing with Clemson and Oklahoma in their respective semifinal games.

“It’s been intense,” Riley Ridley said. “Mom doesn’t know who she wants to root for. She’s a little nervous because both of her boys will be on the field at the same time.”

Calvin thinks she’ll lean toward Riley because he doesn’t have a national championship ring, and this way both would have one.

Regardless, the winner will have lifetime bragging rights.

“You better believe it,” Riley Ridley said.

Although Riley Ridley was also recruited by Alabama, he opted for Georgia in part to forge his own path — and at his brother’s encouragement.

The sophomore reserve has eight receptions for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns this season.

>> Visit AJC.com for complete coverage of the national championship game

Calvin leads Alabama with 59 receptions for 935 yards and four touchdowns this season. No one else on the Crimson Tide has more than 16 catches.

He’s second in Alabama history with 220 catches and 18 receiving touchdowns, and third in receiving yards with 2,749.

“Calvin is special,” Nick Saban said during the national championship game media day Saturday morning.

Calvin said none of the defensive backs had asked him for advice on covering his brother, but if they asked him he would. “He’s big and he has good hands,” are the keys.

Riley (6-2, 200 pounds) is a little bigger and more physical. Calvin (6-1, 190) is more of a technician and isn’t afraid to throw blocks on much bigger defenders.

>> More coverage from DawgNation.com

As for who is better at getting under an opposing player's skin during a game, they’re not quite in agreement.

“We don’t really talk trash,” Riley Ridley said. “It may look like we talk trash, (but) it’s more of ‘Let’s go! That’s all you got?’”

“He is probably,” Calvin said.

Both thought this matchup was going to happen in this building, but in a different game. Georgia clinched a spot in the SEC championship game early, but then Alabama lost at Auburn — setting up the rematch of the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” which has been described as like playing your brother.

“It’s the perfect stage,” Riley Ridley said.

Under Nick Saban, Tide offense has never had a turnover in title game

It’s one of those statistics that will cause an initial reaction of “No way,” but when you stop and think, it makes a lot of sense.

>> Read more trending news

During the five national title games the University of Alabama football team has played under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have lost just two turnovers.

Both were against Texas in the 2009 title game, and both were by special teams, including an interception of a ball thrown by punter P.J. Fitzgerald.

That’s 342 offensive snaps while playing for the national title without having lost a turnover.

It’s also an area that might work to Alabama’s advantage against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

The Crimson Tide led all SEC teams in turnover margin this season at plus-13, while the Bulldogs were fourth at plus-5.

On the national level, Alabama is second in fewest turnovers lost with nine, just one behind LSU.

Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has had just one pass intercepted, against Arkansas on Oct. 14. At the time, he had the second-longest streak of pass attempts without a pick in school history with 206. His current streak is up to 121.

It’s not just a point of emphasis since Saban arrived in Alabama in 2007, but a strong indicator of his success.

Overall, in the 124 games since the start of the 2009 season, Alabama has turned the ball over just 137 times, an average of 1.1 per game. It works out to an interception every 58.5 passing attempts and a fumble every 160.6 carries by the Crimson Tide’s top two running backs.

This season, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough have yet to lose a fumble, and neither lost one in 2016, either.

Prior to the botched handoff against Clemson on the first play of the second half, of Alabama’s six lost fumbles this season, two were on special teams (Henry Ruggs III and Xavian Marks). The others were by senior wide receiver Robert Foster at Texas A&M, junior running back Ronnie Clark vs. Mercer, Ruggs against Mercer and Hurts at Auburn.

“He is on us every day about ball security,” Harris said about his position coach Burton Burns. “That’s the No. 1 thing that you take pride in as a running back is having good ball security and taking care of the football.

“One thing they always tell us is, when you get the ball in your hands, you have the whole team in your hands. So you want to protect it at all cost.”

Incidentally, Hurts had 11 fumbles, with five lost, as a freshman last season, and nine interceptions — all but one of which was against an SEC opponent. Yet he didn’t have any during the SEC Championship Game or the College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley has played in 43 games for Alabama, with 1 fumble that was recovered. The two players he gets compared to the most statistically, Amari Cooper and Julio Jones, touched the ball a combined 442 times without having a single fumble.

“I have to be fast off the ball and get into my route quickly, so I can get open so they don’t create turnovers,” Ridley said.

Alabama hasn’t had quite the same turnover success in four College Football Playoff semifinals, but did have a 2-1 edge against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. If junior defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne’s interception combined with his touchdown a few plays later wasn’t an emotional backbreaker to Clemson, the subsequent pick-6 by sophomore linebacker Mack Wilson was.

“Mack Wilson has filled in tremendously,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said about Shaun Dion Hamilton’s replacement. “I expect him to have another big game this upcoming game.”

 

Watch the Georgia Senate 'Call the Dawgs' before championship game

The state of Georgia and city of Atlanta are ready for their moment in college football’s limelight.

>> Read more trending news

On Monday morning, members of the Georgia state Senate “called the Dawgs” during the session ahead of tonight’s College Football Playoff Championship in Atlanta.

Watch the video below:

Georgia and Alabama kick off at 8 p.m. ET at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Mary Beth Smart also learned a lot from Alabama

The Georgia Bulldogs were only 3 minutes, 29 seconds into their Rose Bowl matchup with Oklahoma when the Sooners scored on a 13-yard Baker Mayfield pass. Next thing Mary Beth Smart knows, Andrew is crying.

>> Read more trending news

Andrew, 5, is the youngest child of Mary Beth Smart and her husband, Georgia coach Kirby Smart. He’s towheaded like the Smarts’ older children, twins Julia and Weston. There are two things Andrew loves more than just about anything: his daddy and the Georgia Bulldogs.

Mary Beth and the children are, of course, at all of Georgia’s games. There have been a lot of them this year, 14 in all, and each one of them more significant than the last. None will be more meaningful than the one the Bulldogs about to play Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for the national championship against Alabama.

All still young, the Smart children are starting to understand the gravity, even little Andrew. So, when he saw the Sooners zip down the field and score without much resistance, he was concerned, as was Bulldog Nation, of course.

“I was like, ‘It’s all right, dude. There’s three minutes off the clock. We’re fine,’” Mary Beth said, chuckling.

And they were fine. It just took 67 minutes, two overtimes and a lot of drama in between to be fine.

“The kids are starting to realize what a really big deal it is, not only for Kirby and for the team, but for Dawg Nation,” Mary Beth said. “They’re starting to get it, what a big deal this is.”

This is the side of college football we don’t see: the coaches’ wives and the mothers and the children who live and die with each play. There is a lot of glory involved in the game, and coaches these days certainly are richly rewarded for their time and effort. But there’s also a lot of stress, and it’s felt by the whole family. It’s a high-stakes sport that keeps these men away from home more than not and leaves the majority of child-rearing to the moms.

This is why Mary Beth has such an affinity for Terry Saban. Nick Saban’s wife of 46 years was the one who taught Mary Beth how to navigate this world and flourish in it.

The focus ahead of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game has been on the relationship between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, who worked at Saban’s side for 11 seasons before finally landing a head coaching job of his own. It’s teacher versus student, mentor versus protégé in the biggest game of the year.

But it goes deeper than that. Saban touched on that in a news conference Sunday when he mentioned how Terry was there for the birth of all of the Smart children.

More importantly, Mary Beth said, “Miss Terry” was there after the children arrived, first with Julia and Weston in early 2008.

“She was such a big help for me when I had the twins,” Mary Beth said. “She’d literally show up at my house unannounced and just say, ‘Go take a nap.’ She’d bring a friend with her and they would put the babies asleep, play with them, feed them. It was like the best present anybody ever gave me, because I was just in pure survival mode.

“It’s hard to explain how much she supported all the assistant coaches’ wives. There was no doubt that Miss Terry had our backs. She was awesome.”

Now the first lady of Georgia football, Mary Beth has tried to model herself after Miss Terry. She is very deliberate about building close relationships with the wives of all the coaches. When they’re on the road with the Bulldogs, she assists in arranging babysitters and organizes dinners and outings. When they’re at home, she tries to check in to see that everyone has all the help they need.

That’s an especially important job since Kirby Smart is a driven workaholic like Saban and expects his assistants to be the same way.

“There’s a lot of things that happen now that I’m sort of in her shoes where I think to myself, ‘What would Miss Terry do?’ Mary Beth said. “She was so sweet to us, and we all respected her for everything she did.”

But like her husband, Mary Beth also finds herself on another sideline these days. And while there will always be an affection and bond with the Sabans and Alabama, make no mistake about it, Mary Beth wants the Bulldogs to win in the worst way.

“Being Alabama, it does make it a little more emotional,” Mary Beth said. “It’s not just the Sabans; we’ve got a lot of friends on that staff. There are four or five coaches still there that were there with us for eight or nine years, plus all the athletic department people. All three of my kids were born there. There are a lot of important times in our lives that happened there. But, in a way, I do think it will make it sweeter that it’s them. I mean, you should have to beat Alabama to win the national championship. You know? If we beat them, we earned it.”

Mary Beth is quite the competitor herself. A former Georgia basketball player who is in the Lady Bulldogs’ record book for her 3-point shooting skills, she plays tennis to get the competitive juices flowing and runs to stay fit.

But during football season, it’s all about the Bulldogs and what happens on that field each Saturday. Or in the case of the College Football Playoff, each Monday.

And Mary Beth, she gets into the games.

“I don’t think I’m quite as animated as he is,” she said of her frenetic husband. “But I’m tight. Yeah, real tight.”

The Smarts’ children sense that, and they’ve sensed how the excitement has built throughout this season. And now it’s at an all-time high.

This all has happened pretty fast for Mary Beth, too. She always knew Kirby would coach his own team. She hoped that it might be Georgia one day, though she was resigned that it probably wouldn’t be.

But then it was, and Kirby has taken a team that was 8-5 in 2016 to one that sits at 13-1 and on the cusp of a national championship. Now only one more remains, and not only is it against the most meaningful people in the Smarts’ lives, but also against a program that has dominated college football like no other in the last decade.

“It’s a big deal,” Mary Beth said. “Just because we’ve done it four times before (trips to championship games), we do not take this for granted. And it certainly means more now. I can assure you. There’s nobody who wants Georgia to win it more than Kirby and me and our family. It’s a big deal.”

That’s evident by the scene in downtown Atlanta this weekend. People are everywhere. Record prices are being paid for tickets to get into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There are free concerts in Centennial Olympic Park. There’s even a Georgia “Power G” on the 20-story SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel on Luckie Street.

This town has Dawg Fever, and the Smarts desperately want to deliver a national championship.

For that reason, there has been little to no interaction between the Smarts and the Sabans. The men have had to see each other at various functions in advance of the game, but Mary Beth and Terry have made a point to avoid each other.

“I’m under the radar right now,” Mary Beth said. “We’re kind of radio silent. Like I said, it’s a big deal. It means a lot to all of us.”

Little Andrew as well.

NCAA Championship: When will Donald Trump arrive in Atlanta?

President Donald Trump is set to arrive in Atlanta on Monday about two hours before the Georgia-Alabama game.

>> Read more trending news 

The president will fly with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Nashville and will arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, at 6 p.m.

>> More coverage from DawgNation.com

He’ll take a motorcade from there to downtown Atlanta, with plans to arrive at the stadium shortly before 7 p.m.

>> Visit AJC.com for complete coverage of the national championship game

The fans who paid top dollar to watch Georgia face Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium may not see the president, but his presence should be obvious.

>> Visit WSBTV.com for more Georgia Bulldogs news

His decision to catch the championship game adds a twist to the biggest college football contest in Georgia’s history — and a host of soon-to-be answered questions.

Read more about Trump’s plans to visit the game at Politically Georgia.

Confident Central Florida fans chant 'We want 'Bama'

University of Central Florida fans won’t give it up.

>> Read more trending news

As if celebrating a self-declared national championship with a parade at Disney World wasn’t bold enough, some Knights fans in attendance at the event Sunday night broke out the “We Want Bama” chant.

Yes, they went there. (Do we need to remind you how silly “wanting Bama” can be?)

As expected, the crowd was large for this spectacle. (When you celebrate a mythical national title, why not party big?) But it doesn’t seem wise to poke the grizzly known as the Crimson Tide beast by chanting “We Want Bama.”

After all, UCF fans, you might receive your wish one day. At this point, who wouldn’t want to see that matchup happen?

Of course, Alabama has bigger concerns at the moment. The Crimson Tide face Georgia on Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to decide the real national championship.

Longtime Georgia SID remembers Dawgs' 1980 national title run

Claude Felton has been Georgia’s sports information director forever. OK, not literally forever, but for a long, long time. Thirty-eight years, to be exact.

>> Read more trending news

The cool thing about that is he has the perspective of having also been around the last time Georgia played for a national championship in football. Actually, the Bulldogs played for national titles three years in a row from 1980 to 1982. But the only time they won it was on Jan. 1, 1981, when freshman Herschel Walker led them to a 12-0 season and 17-10 win against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

Felton now works under the more distinguished title of senior associate athletic director for sports communication. We asked him to reflect on how things have changed in the business since Georgia’s last appearance in the championship game.

“Well, first off, there wasn’t nearly as much media or different types of media,” Felton said this weekend. “Of course, there were no cellphones, no internet. But there was the same amount of excitement.”

And there was, of course, a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding Walker, who many believed should have won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and eventually did as a junior. He left Georgia after his junior season as the SEC’s all-time leading rusher and remains so.

At the time, though, he was a fascination for national press, who came from all around to chronicle the exploits of this ungodly freshman running back from Wrightsville.

“There was a media frenzy around him pretty much the whole year,” Felton said. “We had media from all over the country coming in to talk to him almost every week. Everything then was done pretty much in person. There weren’t a lot of phone interviews back then. A lot of national media came to Athens that year.”

Bulldogs’ success also meaningful to players’ families

It’s easy to forget, when the competition and level of accomplishment increases to the level it has for the Georgia Bulldogs this season, that these football players are somebody’s children. So as much as the achievement has meant for those individuals, it has also been meaningful for their families.

>> Read more trending news

Jake Fromm’s parents, Emerson and Lee Fromm, have made every game this season. Not surprising, until you think about they also were going to all of the games of their twin sons, Dylan and Tyler, who were starring for Warner Robins High School. And the Red Devils’ season didn’t end until the state championship, and then a week late.

The entire Fromm family then headed out to Los Angeles and Pasadena last week for the Rose Bowl, a trip from which they didn’t return until late Wednesday afternoon. All of them are back in Atlanta this weekend, of course.

“Loving it,” Lee Fromm said.

Often forgotten on journeys like this season has been for the Bulldogs is that, while a limited number of tickets are provided each games for players’ families, they still have to get there. And this year, that has meant trips to Notre Dame and Jacksonville, to Nashville, Knoxville and Auburn, to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl and now back to Atlanta.

It took Trina Blankenship, Rodrigo Blankenship’s sister, 13 hours each way to get to Pasadena to watch her brother kick a record 55-yard field goal in the Rose Bowl. That’s because she had multiple connections while seeking the lowest fare — and the trip still cost her $2,500.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Trina Blankenship said.

And that was just Trina. Her brother Kenny drove from Tucson, Arizona, to New Orleans to meet his father, Kenny, who drove from Atlanta. From there they drove to Phoenix to meet Rodrigo’s mother Izabel and girlfriend Logan Harrell. They then rode together to Pasadena. Afterward, they had to drive by to Phoenix where, thankfully, they were all able to fly back home.

Multiply their travails by 85 athletes, not including non-scholarship players, and you begin to realize commitment of these players’ loved ones for being there to support them. Regardless of Monday night’s outcome in the national championship game against Alabama, it is number 15 for the players and their families.

It has been a remarkable year, indeed, but an expensive one, too. So hats off to all of the Bulldogs’ parents and brothers and sisters, most of whom have been there every step of the way.

Players amused by Central Florida's claim to national title

Players and coaches for both Georgia and Alabama got a kick out of the University of Central Florida claiming to be national champions after completing an undefeated season with a win against Auburn in the Peach Bowl. The general response has been, “The championship game will be played here in Atlanta at 8 p.m. Monday night.

>> Read more trending news

Of course, the controversy of the Knights being left out has lent itself again to a call for an expanded playoff. Even though the current College Football Playoff contract runs through 2025, there remains a faction that believes the playoff field should include eight teams – the five Power 5 conference champions and three at-large participants, which might include a school the size of UCF.

Detractors say that would mean too many games for the players. They are, after all, supposed to be “student-athletes.”

Georgia’s Davin Bellamy agrees. “Man, this is Week 15,” the senior outside linebacker said. “I don’t know if I could do another one. I don’t know if I could do another week.”

Bellamy doesn’t have a problem with UCF making its claim, either.

“That’s good for their program,” he said. “Didn’t they lose like every game a couple years ago? Good for them.”

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