What hyped incoming true freshmen can learn from Tua Tagovailoa and Najee Harris
Najee Harris and Tua Tagovailoa don’t know it, but they’re perfect people for incoming true freshmen to learn from.
If you’re expecting me to spend the next 700-800 words on why Harris and Tagovailoa “did things the right way” and “kept their head down and worked,” sorry to disappoint you. This won’t be that. That’s not to say they weren’t extremely hard workers — they were by all accounts — but this isn’t the place that’s going to be discussed.
Offseason comments from the two Alabama sophomores-to-be revealed something that all true freshmen should realize.
On Thursday, a San Francisco Chronicle report came out that Harris debated transferring from Alabama at season’s end and that longtime trainer Marcus Malu had to talk him out of it. Perhaps that was after Damien Harris surprisingly announced his return to Alabama, which meant that the former No. 1 running back recruit in America still would be looking at a shared workload.
A few months ago, Tagovailoa confirmed what Lane Kiffin said previously that he was going to transfer if he didn’t play in the national championship game.
“I wanted to leave,” Tagovailoa said earlier in the offseason while speaking at his old high school, according to HawaiiNewsNow.com. “I told my dad I wanted to go to a school where I thought it’d be easier for me and wouldn’t challenge me so much.”
Eventually, Tagovailoa walked the comment back and said he was referring to leaving because of the workouts being too intense and that it didn’t have anything to do with backing up Jalen Hurts. You can believe what you want there.
What I believe is that two highly-touted true freshmen skill players expected to play, and they had serious thoughts about leaving when that didn’t happen. It didn’t matter that it was at Alabama, and nor did they care that there were upperclassmen with title game experience ahead of them on the depth chart.
There’s a lesson to be learned there.
Is that my way of saying true freshmen should come into college and not expect to play? Absolutely not. We saw in the title game that true freshmen can not only play, but they can shine on the biggest stage. It’s not 1975 anymore. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and being disappointed if they aren’t met.
The problem I have is the idea that Harris and Tagovailoa would set these unrealistic ultimatums for themselves.
This notion of a true freshman going into a place like Alabama and saying “if I don’t play right away, I’m transferring” is absurd. Or even if it’s not an ultimatum and it’s more of a year-end realization like it sounds like with Najee Harris, what’s the point of that?
Harris committed to Alabama a month after Damien Harris had a 1,000-yard season and Bo Scarbrough became a postseason sensation. What did Harris expect? That Nick Saban was going to instantly put a true freshman at the top of the depth chart based on how he looked in practice/garbage time? Come on. Get realistic.
The same thinking applied to Tagovailoa. He committed to Alabama knowing that the defending SEC Offensive Player of the Year was one defensive stand short of leading the program to a national title as a true freshman. Sorry kid, but no amount of perfect practice reps are suddenly going to vault you ahead of someone with a résumé like that.
Both Harris and Tagovailoa got their coveted meaningful reps in the second half of the national championship. Sure, they worked their tails off in practice and put themselves in position to be called upon when the time came.
Why did the time come, though? Hurts was horrific while Scarbrough and Damien Harris were both ineffective.
If Hurts throws 2 first-half touchdown passes and Scarbrough and Damien Harris are each racking up 7 yards per carry, both Tagovailoa and Najee Harris are stuck on the sidelines for that game. Maybe both would have indeed transferred. And why? Because the situation was out of their control, and they didn’t know how to deal with this new reality of waiting their turn.
If you get to start as a true freshman at a big-time program, chances are, you caught some sort of break. Maybe the starter went down like at Georgia, where Jake Fromm stepped in and capitalized on Jacob Eason’s injury. Maybe there wasn’t a returning starter in the first place, like when Hurts arrived at Alabama and won the starting gig.
Those situations are different from the ones that Harris and Tagovailoa encountered. They knew they were going to places with household names in front of them. If they really did set their own personal ultimatum for their freshman seasons, that shows naiveté.
True freshmen beginning their first fall camps should have the big-picture perspective. Powerhouse programs don’t consistently dominate because they have starting lineups loaded with true freshmen. It’s a process.
You have to establish your coach’s trust. Saban would catch hell if a true freshman turns the ball over in a key spot while an All-SEC player is sitting on the bench.
You have to adapt to the new level of football. The increase of mental and physical preparation shouldn’t be taken for granted.
You have to understand that it’s not all about you. Going from being a 5-star recruit and starring in high school to playing for the monster that is Alabama football isn’t easy.
While we did see true freshmen like Harris and Tagovailoa star on the biggest stage, I fear that this will become more of the expectation in the sport. We could see more and more blue-chip recruits fail to rise on the depth chart as true freshmen, only to leave before they really even got settled in.
My hope is that this doesn’t happen. Do away with the ultimatums. Understand what you’re signing up for, and don’t debate leaving if instant stardom isn’t achieved.
Learn from Harris and Tagovailoa, incoming freshmen. You’ll be glad you did.