Vince Passas would want nothing more for Christmas than to be able to attend Saturday’s game between the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. The quarterback guru and trainer currently resides in Hawaii’s ninth island, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance won’t be allowed.
Two of Passas’ star pupils as the quarterbacks coach at Saint Louis will face off on Saturday, as Tagovailoa’s Dolphins (9-5) and Mariota’s Raiders (7-7) continue their respective playoff pushes.
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As much pride as Passas shows in both, neither have forgotten about him, either. When Mariota and Tagovailoa were named Heisman Trophy finalists during their college careers, Passas was invited to attend each of their ceremonies in New York City. Both then went on become top-five NFL Draft picks five years apart from each other. When Passas sees each of them take the same field for the first time on Saturday, the feeling will be almost indescribable.
“From Saint Louis School and our program and all the brothers from Kalaepohaku, I’m sure they’re real proud,” Passas told KHON2. “I just can’t tell you how excited and how proud we are of Marcus and Tua.”
Both quarterbacks were groomed by Passas as Crusaders, as well as during Passas’ “Get Better” clinics on Sundays, which were also open to quarterbacks that didn’t attend Saint Louis. As improbable as it is to see two quarterbacks from the same high school face off against each other in the NFL, Passas knew early on that each had what it took to get to the league someday.
“They were both amazing. Not only as athletes, but as individuals,” Passas recalls. “Their character speaks a lot about their families and the way they’ve been brought up and how respectful they were not only to the coaches, but to the players, their peers as well. Gosh, I just thank the good Lord for having our paths cross and we’re just so grateful to be a part of their journeys.
“We knew someday that they would be there. Both of them have this self-driven motivation, they got this amazing work ethic. More importantly, I think they got great family support. I don’t think you could ask anything more from them or their families. I’m so happy for them. They’re just so special. We thank the good Lord for not only having our paths cross but to send them to Saint Louis Schools and be a part of our program and our brotherhood and I think that’s the most special thing.”
Before young quarterbacks in Hawaii wanted to be the next Tua, they wanted to be the next Marcus. When Mariota won the Heisman in 2014, an entire generation of young football players in the state saw what could be achieved through hard work and humility. Perhaps no player was more inspired than Tagovailoa, who Passas remembers as a precocious grade-schooler willing to jump in during drills with and against kids almost twice his age. Oregon was one of the schools Tagovailoa aspired to attend due in large part to Mariota’s success, but the Ducks didn’t offer until it was too late — Alabama had already swooped in.
“It’s like the big brother that took the young brother under his wing at our camps and at our school and in our program,” Passas said of the relationship between Mariota and Tagovailoa. “For them to be facing each other and both of them making their marks in the NFL, gosh, I can’t tell you how excited I am. Not only myself but I’m sure I speak on behalf of the brotherhood at Saint Louis and all the past quarterbacks, that lineage of quarterbacks that have come through our program to see that two of our brothers are at the top of their game.”
When the 2020 NFL schedule was initially released in May, both Mariota and Tagovailoa seeing the field at all was in doubt. Tagovailoa was still recovering from a hip fracture that ended his college career, while Mariota was and still is dealing with a handful of ailments. Tagovailoa is currently 5-2 as the starter in Miami, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 1,359 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions so far.
Mariota, who’s health has been a big question mark all year, made his season debut Thursday in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Mariota threw for a touchdown and ran for another, giving fans a glimpse of his dual-threat ability. He entered the game in the second quarter in relief of Derek Carr, who left with a groin injury. On Tuesday, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden did not commit to naming a starter as the two split reps in practice. But regardless of what happens in the next two games to close out the regular season, Passas knows that the 27-year-old Mariota still has more to give.
“I was just so happy for him. He looked like that Oregon quarterback where he was playing fearless,” Passas said of Mariota’s 2020 debut. “He was running with this reckless abandon, just trying to create four more downs and doing whatever he had to do to get a first down and create four more opportunities for his team. I really felt that he gave his team a good chance to win, but unfortunately things didn’t turn out that way.
“But for him to have that opportunity to get in there, I know he’s been wanting to get out there and contribute to the Raider organization. I was happy he had a chance to do that.”
Kickoff between the Dolphins and Raiders is set for 3:15 p.m. HST on NFL Network. Because he won’t be able to attend in person, Passas will eagerly tune in on Saturday. Like a proud father who refuses to choose favorites among his children, he’s hoping for a shootout.
“I’m gonna be somewhere to watch it on TV and I was hoping I could get to the game there but they don’t let anyone else in the stadium but just watching them on TV is always an honor,” Passas said. “That real good feeling inside of just hoping they do good and I’ll be pulling for each one, for both of them when they’re on offense. Hopefully the score is like 70-something to 70-something in a tie. I don’t know, I just hope they do good. I’m just so proud of them as well as our brotherhood at Saint Louis and the state of Hawaii as well.”