HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — “Hellooooooo. What’s up guys? It’s been a loooooong time.”
That’s how Tua Tagovailoa, the Miami Dolphins quarterback and one-man NFL football content generator, began his first news conference with local reporters since December. He spoke Monday evening ahead of his second annual luau benefitting the Tua Foundation.
A Changed Tua Tagovailoa
A lot has happened since Christmas.
Tua had his fifth-year option exercised by the Dolphins, guaranteeing Tagovailoa $23.1 million in base salary in 2024. He’s added good weight, looking noticeably stronger than ever before. He’s grown a mustache that he doesn’t love, but his wife does.
But the most important thing Tagovailoa has done since Christmas was get healthy. He’s now fully recovered from his second diagnosed concussion in three months, which ended his third season and kept Tua out of the Dolphins’ first playoff game since 2016.
It also ignited a debate about whether Tua should ever play again. The decision was made to continue his career, but only with the assurances from doctors that his long-term health was not in jeopardy by continuing to play.
That news, and the time focused on self-care, has made for a lighter, happier Tagovailoa than even this time last year.
“I’m smiling a lot more,” Tagovailoa said, when asked to compare how he feels now compared to 12 months ago. “I would say good.”
Of course, it’s easy to be happy when you’re surrounded by family, friends, teammates, and coaches, who showed up in force to support Tua’s good works. And having perhaps one of the most talented rosters in football, an innovative coach who has his back, and, for the first time in years, system continuity surely plays a role too.
“Woooo. I’m very excited,” Tagovailoa said, when asked about how pumped he is to get back to football.
The Dolphins report for their offseason program Monday, and if history is any guide, Tagovailoa will be a regular at the voluntary program.
Tagovailoa added, “I’m very excited. I think our entire team is excited to get back out there, get to meet a lot of the newer guys. A lot of the newer guys getting to meet guys that have been in this system for a whole year. It’s very exciting, and I think a lot of the fans, the community, everyone is very supportive. You can feel that support and everyone’s excited.”
Starting the season has never been Tagovailoa’s issue. Finishing it has. He’s missed games, dating back to college, in each of the last five seasons due to injury.
He’s spent the last three months doing everything he can to end that streak, including training in jiu-jitsu to teach him to land in a way that doesn’t put him at risk of head injuries.
“Offseason training’s been good,” Tagovailoa said. “Been working on strength in many areas and been chipping away at things that I felt like that I needed to work on to get to where I feel I can get to in the later parts of the season.”
The Tua Foundation
We’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the good work Tagovailoa has done off the field.
The Tua Foundation raises money for deserving groups in his native Hawaii, his college down in Alabama, and now here in South Florida. Mike McDaniel and Jason Taylor were among the many luminaries on hand for Monday night’s fundraiser at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.
“Going into the second year of the Foundation here in South Florida. Like I said before, the initiative of the Tua Foundation is to continue to give back to the communities that have helped me give back to where I am today.
“We do this in Hawaii, we do this in Alabama, and also here in South Florida, to help give back to the communities that have helped me get to where I’m at,” Tagovailoa explained.
“The two recipients that we are helping — one is the Jason Taylor Foundation, so you guys will see Jason here. Their initiative is very similar to the mission of the Tua Foundation, in helping giving back to the community, with the kids out of sports, education, and other extracurricular activities outside of that. And the Special Olympics.
“I think it’s very important that we help in that matter, because you give those kind of people opportunities that don’t necessarily have them or don’t necessarily have the right of way because of the disabilities they have.”