Analysis

Potential Tua Tagovailoa-Marcus Mariota QB matchup on NFL Saturday would join rare company

As a young quarterback growing up in Hawaii, Tua Tagovailoa fittingly had a poster of the state's only Heisman Trophy winner -- and the highest-drafted player born on the islands -- in his bedroom.

On Saturday, the player on the wall will be standing on the opposite sideline, in the flesh, as Marcus Mariota and the Raiders host Tagovailoa's Dolphins on NFL Network in a game with significant playoff implications.

Whether Mariota will start is still uncertain, as Raiders QB1 Derek Carr continues to work through a groin injury he suffered in Week 15. Mariota filled in valiantly for Carr in a narrow loss to the Chargers last week, becoming the first non-starter in the Super Bowl era with 200-plus passing yards and 75-plus rushing yards in a single game.

Although the Raiders hope to get their starter back, the people of Hawaii surely wouldn't mind seeing Mariota suit up in the "9th Island" -- an affectionate term some locals use for Las Vegas.

A matchup between Mariota and Tagovailoa would be rare for reasons well beyond the fact that both were born in Hawaii. The two QBs share eerily similar stories made for the movies.

Mariota first saw Tagovailoa when the former was a student at Saint Louis High School in Honolulu and the latter was a fourth-grader participating in football camps on school grounds.

From there, Mariota went on to win the Hawaii Gatorade State Player of the Year and the state championship in 2010. At the University of Oregon in 2014, he became Hawaii's first Heisman Trophy winner and made a national championship appearance, losing to Ohio State. The Titans selected Mariota with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

In 2016, Tagovailoa followed in his mentor's footsteps at St. Louis High School, winning both the Hawaii Gatorade Player of the Year and the state championship. The younger Hawaii native went on to enroll at Alabama, where he won the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship and was the runner-up to Kyler Murray for the Heisman Trophy the following season.

In April's draft, it was Tagovailoa's turn to realize his NFL dreams. When the Dolphins took him with the fifth overall pick, St. Louis became just the second high school in the common draft era to produce two quarterbacks selected in the top five. The other? Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, Louisiana. The players? Brothers and NFL royalty, Peyton and Eli Manning.

A Mariota start on NFL Saturday would provide just the sixth matchup between opposing QBs from the same high school since 1950. The others (not including the Mannings):

  • Drew Brees vs. Nick Foles -- Westlake High School (Travis County, Texas)
  • Terry Bradshaw vs. Joe Ferguson -- Woodlawn High School (Shreveport, Louisiana)
  • Sonny Jurgensen vs. Roman Gabriel -- New Hanover High School (Wilmington, North Carolina)
  • Bobby Layne vs. John Roach -- Highland Park High School (University Park, Texas)

A promising note for the two Hawaii quarterbacks (and Dolphins fans) is each of the previous five such matchups featured either a current or future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Should Mariota get the nod versus the Dolphins -- which would be his first start since ceding the Titans reins to Ryan Tannehill in Week 6 of the 2019 season -- he'll look to avoid back-to-back losses at the hands of one of his mentees. In Week 15, the sixth-year veteran came up short in overtime to rookie Justin Herbert, who grew up in Eugene, Oregon, idolizing Mariota before suiting up for the Ducks himself. Herbert was selected sixth overall in the 2020 draft -- one pick after Tagovailoa.

If Tagovailoa-Mariota is indeed the QB matchup on Saturday night, Hawaii will undoubtedly be watching. Don't sleep on the 808.

Follow Anthony Holzman-Escareno on Twitter.

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