Faith and family drive Notre Dame DL Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It seems surreal now that not too long ago, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa was a burgeoning prospect in the family quarterback lineage.

That his body was already trending toward its current 6-foot-3, 293-pound form was irrelevant. The now-Notre Dame freshman defensive tackle came out of the womb being taught to dream big and to develop the faith and fortitude to someday create a reality that matched.

“Our kids are literally trained with the spirit of excellence and with the mindset they are conquerers,” said Sai Amosa, Myron’s mother and a proud purveyor of the visions and values of her father, High Chief Seu Tagovailoa, rooted in Samoan culture.

“So there’s kind of a Biblical aspect of it that we instill in our children that you can’t be ordinary. You have to be extraordinary. Those are things that we impart into their spirit, that nothing is impossible.”

On a parallel mission during Myron’s middle school years in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, was cousin Tua Tagovailoa, who might as well have been his brother. Myron and his siblings, and Tua and his, were born in the same house.

They walked to school together, practiced football together, learned Biblical verses from Seu and wife Leaniva together, and marveled together as Tua grew into being one of the top quarterback prospects in the country, eventually landing at the University of Alabama in the same recruiting cycle that Myron opted for ND.

As for Myron’s quarterbacking prowess?

“I’d say I’m a good runner,” he said with a chuckle.

With Tua’s younger brother, Taulia, showing early promise at the QB position (and continuing to do so to this day as a high school junior), Myron evolved onto the football path that has him on a collision course with his older brother, Navy junior offensive linemen Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa.

AP No. 9 Notre Dame (8-2) and Navy (6-3) meet for the 91st consecutive season, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium (3:30 p.m. EST; NBC-TV). The Irish will honor 26 seniors — though only seven have expiring eligibility — and coaching icon Knute Rockne with special Rockne heritage uniforms, helmets and cleats.

“The cleats actually look like hiking boots,” ND head coach Brian Kelly offered. “But our kids love them.”

The Irish players’ posts on Snapchat would suggest otherwise.

Perhaps the prospect of the Amosa brothers lining up across from each other Saturday will become equally peripheral to the main story line. While Myron is a regular rotation guy at defensive tackle behind senior Jonathan Bonner, Adam has only seen game action one time this season — last week in a 43-40 victory over SMU.

The two brothers have never played on the same team or played against each other, and the texts back and forth between the two earlier this week were more playful than confrontational.

“Kind of like my whole life, he’s been the one I’ve looked up to,” Myron said of Adam, “but at the same time, he’s the one who kind of picks on you the most. It’s an opportunity to get back, I guess.”

Sai and husband Tuli Amosa will take in the proceedings in person. It will be Sai’s first actual game at ND, though she visited in August for the team’s “New & Gold” scrimmage.

So much more than who might get the upper hand Saturday is how Myron and Adam connect, and it starts with the hyphen and the twisted order of their last names.

The short version is this. Adam, born with the surname Amosa, wanted to honor the family patriarch and the man who raised him while his parents — both pastors for the Message of Peace Ministry in Ewa Beach — worked.

So Adam added Tagovailoa to his name in honor or Seu. Myron, meanwhile, was born with Tagovailoa as his legal last name, but he wanted to let people know Tuli was his father. So he added Amosa to his last name. Why Adam’s hyphenated name is in a different order has to do with Sai in mind.

Adam was getting ready to graduate from the Naval Academy Prep School when he decided to hyphenate, and knowing that his mom would have to wait much longer to hear his named called at graduation if his last name began with a “T”, he opted to keep Amosa first.

“We really left it up to them how they wanted to honor their Papa (Seu),” Sai said.

And yet they all do it every day in much more than name.

Tuli and Sai flew to Alabama first to visit Tua and Taulia before heading to South Bend on Wednesday. Tua’s entire family moved to the state of Alabama shortly after he decided to go to college there. Taulia is the starting quarterback for Class 7A second-ranked and undefeated Thompson High in Alabaster, Ala.

Myron refers to the two cousins as his brothers. Sai calls them her “spiritual babies, because they’ve been under our wing.”

There are three younger Tagovailoa-Amosa brothers still at home, ranging all the way down to 6 years old. All of them play football. Tuli coaches them in a young league Seu created — the Ewa Beach Sabres. The only daughter in the family, Tichael, is an aspiring doctor, which may come in handy given all the family exposure to hard hits.

“He was kind of tired of us traveling to different cities just to play football,” Myron said of Seu’s creation of the Sabres, “so he wanted to open up his own (league) and have all of his grandkids play for it.”

Added Sai, “All the kids know is football, school, church and home. Daddy said, ‘If you want your kids to be great, you have to start with something yourself.’ He also wanted us to bring in all these children with single parents, so that we could help them.

“The organization was from Daddy’s vision, and we just kind of ran with that.”

Myron went from Tua’s backup at quarterback in middle school to a lineman at James Campbell High and then to Kapolei High School, when Sai’s brother, Galu Tagovailoa, landed on the coaching staff there.

Navy was very much in the recruiting picture at first as Myron developed, then USC made a strong push.

In fact, it was at last year’s USC game in Los Angeles where the Irish coaches first spotted Myron, in the stadium tunnel before the game at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

“They (ND’s coaches) weren’t allowed to talk to me, because I was on my official (visit) to USC,” Myron said, “but I do remember walking down the tunnel. I was walking next to DeShone Kizer and coach Kelly. I think I remember seeing (defensive line) coach (Mike) Elston. I just kept my head down and kept walking.”

Newly hired assistant Brian Polian, who did much of the legwork in getting five-star linebacker prospect Manti Te’o from Oahu’s North Shore to Notre Dame in the 2009 recruiting cycle, volunteered for the 4,300-mile junkets again. This time for Myron.

“To be honest, Notre Dame was not a factor at all as late as January,” Sai said. “But coach Polian did his homework and was persistent and made such an impact in at least getting Myron to visit.

“I shared with my husband that I wasn’t interested in making the visit. I just wanted my son to make a decision. But I thank God that we made the decision to go.

“You can hear so many things about Notre Dame, but it’s very different when you actually step foot on campus. And that really shifted my heart when we arrived. I was totally floored.”

Myron and his parents squeezed Notre Dame in on a rare midweek official visit, roughly a week before National Signing Day, between visits to Navy and Vanderbilt.

“Until then, his heart was set on USC or Vanderbilt, and mine was set on him joining his brother at Navy,” Sai said.

On signing day, Myron’s heart was with Notre Dame, and he’s been an immediate contributor from day one, with eight tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

“Sometimes guys just have that sense and awareness to get off blocks, and he just has a great first step,” Kelly said. “If you look back on some of the key plays that he's made this year, it's been by penetration. So one of his really unique skills is that he has that quickness off the ball.”

And the confidence to continue to develop.

“That comes from Papa,” Myron said. “He set the standard with us. It starts with our mindset. He instilled in everything we do. We’ve got to come out first. We’ve got to come out on top. So he’s kind of like the foundation of the way we do things.”

On July 23, 2014, High Chief Seu Tagovailoa left this world after suffering a bout of pneumonia. His passing affected Myron profoundly, but not as much as his legacy.

“He’d probably say he’s proud, but he’s not satisfied,” Myron said, after a deep pause. “He’s just the type of guy where if you exceed his standards, he’s going to build more for you.”

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Notre Dame freshman defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (95) celebrates with teammate Khalid Kareem (53) during ND's 49-14 rout of USC, Oct. 21 a Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)