Tagovailoa is the oldest of five children born to Galu and Diane Tagovailoa, Hawaiians of Samoan descent. His name, given him by his grandfather, Seu, refers to a bird that travels between the Samoan villages of Vatia and Aua. Inspired by his father and grandfather, Tua nurtured a passion for football from an early age. He excelled as a Pop Warner quarterback as an 8-year old and attended Saint Louis High School in Honolulu where he was mentored by star quarterback Marcus Mariota. He committed to play for Alabama in May 2016. In 2017 Tagovailoa was ranked as the top high school football player in Hawaii.
Tagovailoa's family moved with him to Alabama, buying a house in Alabaster. His younger brother, Taulia enrolled at Thompson High School and immediately emerged as a star quarterback for the Warriors, and also committed to accept a scholarship to Alabama.
As a true freshman, Tua Tagovailoa played backup to sophomore Jalen Hurts through the 2017 season. He took his first snap in a blowout over Fresno State at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 9, going 6 for 9 with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III. He scored twice in a 59-0 win over Vanderbilt on September 23, and recorded his first touchdown run against Ole Miss a week later. In the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Alabama went to halftime down 13-0 to Georgia. Tagovailoa took the field as the starter for the second half. Though he scored the Tide's first touchdown on a pass to Ruggs, Georgia quickly answered and both offenses seemed to struggle in the third quarter. In the fourth, Andy Pappanastos' 30-yard field goal brought the game within 7 points, and Tagovailoa found Calvin Ridley to tie the game. Pappanastos missed an opportunity to seal the win from 36 yards out, and Georgia kicked a 51-yard field goal in overtime. Tagovailoa was sacked on his first snap in overtime, but then hit DeVonta Smith for a 46-yard touchdown to claim the victory. Tagovailoa was named "Offensive Player of the Game" for his efforts.
During the offseason, head coach Nick Saban deflected all questions about whether Hurts or Tagovailoa would be named the starter for the 2018 season. The question was not answered until Tagovailoa took the field in the opening game against Louisville in Orlando, Florida. He went 12 for 16 for 227 yards and two touchdowns before Hurts relieved him in the 3rd quarter. The two continued to share time, with Tagovailoa as the starter, for the remainder of the season, despite both quarterbacks suffering injuries. Third-string quarterback Mac Jones saw limited time, as well.
Tagovailoa won the Walter Camp Award and was named Player of the Year by Sporting News in 2018. He was the runner-up to Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray in Heisman Trophy voting.
Tagovailoa started the 2019 season as a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Arkansas Razorbacks on October 26 and was limited in practice during an off-week before Alabama took on the 2nd-ranked LSU Tigers. Tagovailoa went 21-40 for 418 yards and four touchdowns in the game, but Alabama lost the game 41-46. On November 16, Tagovailoa suffered a more serious injury, dislocating his hip in the 2nd quarter of a game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. He underwent a successful surgery, but did not return to the field for the remainder of the season. Jones took over as starting quarterback.
- Schnell, Lindsay (October 8, 2015) "The islands' next great QB: Tua Tagovailoa, and the story of the man who inspired him to soar" Sports Illustrated
- "Tua Tagovailoa" (December 10, 2018) Wikipedia - accessed December 10, 2018
- Zenitz, Matt (January 6, 2019) "Tua Tagovailoa leaving Alabama, entering NFL draft." The Birmingham News