Keeping the faith: Tagovailoa-Amosa honors father's legacy with transcendent transition
SOUTH BEND — Marcus Freeman never got a chance to get to know Tuli Amosa, the father of Notre Dame grad senior defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who died unexpectedly last week in his native Hawaii.
But Monday afternoon the first-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator got a taste of what Tuli Amosa stood for and how deeply ingrained that message was in the way Myron went about merging his reality and his dreams.
After traversing six time zones and more than 5,100 air miles following a week back in Ewa Beach on Oahu to mourn the death and honor the life of the man who taught Myron about both faith and football, Myron was expected to rejoin his teammates at practice on Tuesday.
Instead, he surprised Freeman with an appearance Monday morning, decked out in full pads and in uniform.
“He runs on the field,” Freeman said, “and the next thing you know, he’s like, ‘Coach, can I get into drills?’
“‘Sure. Absolutely.’ You know what I mean? It’s great, man. One, he’s a really good football player. He has an infectious personality. He's a captain. It's just great to have him back.”
Not that he ever really truly left.
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While back in Hawaii, Myron watched tape of his backups at strongside defensive end, junior NaNa Osafo-Mensah and sophomore Alexander Ehrensberger, and marveled at the leaps of progress each of them made.
“They understood that when I left, they would have to step up to the plate and really take that step forward,” Myron said Tuesday while meeting with the media after practice.
He was also named one of the seven 2021 Irish captains while away, connecting to the announcement via FaceTime and blown away that every one of his teammates back in South Bend was donning a lei back at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex..
“I assumed it was all to my dad,” Myron said. “And so when (head) coach (Brian) Kelly came up and said so, it really meant so much.
“For me, the Notre Dame community, the Notre Dame family truly means so much. And, as you can see, it’s really brought me into good spirits.
“That’s why coming back, the transition was so easy. The guys just opened up, welcomed me back with open arms and here we are — day 10 of practice.”
And Myron right in the middle of it as one of the most transcendent players on the Irish roster.
A quarterback until middle school when his cousin — former Alabama star and current Miami Dolphin, Tua Tagovailoa, nudged him into a backup role — Myron came to Notre Dame in the summer of 2017 aspiring to be a defensive end.
Playing at 6-3, 250 his senior season at Kapolei High, Myron showed up for summer school at Notre Dame at 290 pounds. He never told defensive line coach Mike Elston or Kelly about his designs to play end.
“I came in overweight,” he said. “And so when I see my name on the depth chart in fall camp, it was at defensive tackle. So for me, I didn’t want to complain. I just thought, ‘That’s where the coaches wanted me to be and so it was a sacrifice I had to make.'
“It’s my fault that I came in at 290.”
Myron didn’t stay at 290, but he did stay at defensive tackle. Last season while playing at 282 pounds, he recorded 17 tackles in 11 games, nine of them starts. The missed game, a 42-26 win over Florida State on Oct. 10, was due to COVID-19.
Six of those tackles in 2020 were for losses, with 2.5 sacks. He also collected two fumbled recoveries, forced a fumble and generated two QB hurries.
On Tuesday, Myron weighed in at 260, 8 pounds lighter than what he’s listed on the Notre Dame roster, which was updated at the start of training camp.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Yes, I definitely feel lighter. I feel more explosive.”
And quicker, and more agile and with more stamina. And yet, he says, his power numbers in the weight room are way up after working all summer with Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis.
“I’ve been putting up numbers I’ve never put up before,” Myron said. “So a lot of that too is understanding that this is my last year and I really had to push the limits and push the bar.”
And a lot of it is about being Tuli’s son and the grandson of the late High Chief Seu Tagovailoa, Tuli’s father-in-law.
Both were and remain profound influences on Myron and his five siblings, particularly when it comes to applying faith to football and to life.
Tuli and his wife, Sai Amosa, pastored together at the Message of Peace Ministry in Ewa Beach. Tuli also coached Myron in a youth football league that High Chief Tagovailoa created.
“Our kids are literally trained with the spirit of excellence and with the mindset they are conquerers,” Sai told the Tribune in 2017.
“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.”
Freeman had gleaned that aspect of Myron’s makeup after the Hawaii product asked the new coordinator about a move to defensive end. Freeman, until now, just didn’t realize where that drive came from and why it was so persistent.
“Shoot, I just knew he played a lot of football. Heck yeah, move to D-end,” Freeman said. “He lost weight. He's performing at a high level. It's awesome. You can now move him inside, outside. You can do different things with him where he’s just not an end.
“Hopefully, (he’ll) be able to show the NFL. This is for him, too. I think we have a lot of versatility, because of the way we play up front (with multiple fronts).
“You don’t just sit there and play nose, sit there and play end. You’re moving. You’re doing different things. And so I think because we’re so versatile on the defensive line and schematically in what we do, that you can put guys in different positions.”
In Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s case, you don’t do any of it without faith.
“I understood my purpose from the very get-go,” he said. “As a believer in Christ, I understood my purpose is to use my platform to glorify the name of Jesus. With my dad passing, it just adds motivation, more reasons why I feel like I have to be here.
“I have to push what he wanted me to push out. To push out what I wanted to push out and that’s all he wanted — that I have a purpose out here in this world. And it’s to minister the Gospel no matter where I go.
“And so seeing that he can’t be here for my season and the rest of my life, it’s just an understanding that I still have to carry his legacy throughout my journey.”
Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI