COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — For Taulia Tagovailoa, high expectations come with the territory.
His position alone — starting quarterback for a Big Ten team — almost assures it. Throw in his famous last name and a resume that includes a stop at Alabama, and there's scrutiny that other players simply don't face.
“Just from being a quarterback there’s going to be a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure and stuff like that," Tagovailoa said. "I guess throughout the years I learned to manage that.”
After his first season at Maryland was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, Tagovailoa is ready to lead the Terrapins on Saturday in their 2021 opener against West Virginia. The brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Taulia still has a lot to prove, but he showed potential in last year's abbreviated season.
In four games with the Terps, Tagovailoa averaged 253 yards passing per game, trailing only Michael Penix Jr. and Justin Fields in the Big Ten. He also completed 61.5% of his passes.
“I take a lot of pride in being the leader of this football team," Tagovailoa said. "It comes with a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility but — wouldn't have it no other way.”
The last time Maryland had a winning season was in 2014. That was also the last time the same quarterback started every game for the Terrapins. Tagovailoa didn't quite do that last season.
Perhaps it'll happen in 2021.
“He's just made the strides to be the most consistent quarterback he can be,” receiver Dontay Demus said. “He's come in and learned the offense in and out and learned the position like he plays every position. I feel like him knowing everything and knowing what things are going to happen before it happens is going to be a big thing.”
Tagovailoa began his career at Alabama on the same 2019 team his brother was playing for. He attempted 12 passes for the Crimson Tide.
After transferring to Maryland, Tagovailoa threw for 394 yards and three touchdowns in his second game with the Terrapins, leading them to an overtime win over Minnesota. The following week, Maryland beat Penn State for just the third time in 44 tries.
That momentum dissipated when the Terps had games canceled in three of the next four weeks, but Tagovailoa has some success he can build on.
“He’s here in Maryland. He’s got a great last name, he comes from a great family. His family’s been very good to me, obviously, as a coach," Maryland coach Michael Locksley said. "Probably wouldn’t be here as the head coach at Maryland if it wasn’t for the job that his brother did at Alabama.”
Locksley coached Tua Tagovailoa when he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama, a position he held before taking over the Maryland program prior to the 2019 season. Dan Enos, now Maryland's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was Tua Tagovailoa's position coach in 2018 with the Crimson Tide.
In 2019, after those two coaches moved on, Taulia Tagovailoa played at Alabama along with his brother. Also on that roster was Mac Jones, who is expected to start for the Patriots in New England's season opener Sept. 12 against Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins.
“That’s a lot of inspiration," Taulia Tagovailoa said. “Seeing them grind, seeing them prepare, and the things that they did. Mac, going from scout team ... seeing him go first round, that's a crazy story.”
It's a lot for Taulia Tagovailoa to live up to, coming to Maryland from that Alabama program — and with Tua as his brother. But his coach said those expectations aren't a burden.
“He was born and raised to be a champion. This guy gets it. He loves the game of football,” Locksley said. "He has fun with it, so I don't necessarily see the shadow or the last name creating any type of anxiety for him.”
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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