In early August before preseason camp was officially underway, Maryland football quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and offensive lineman Spencer Anderson found themselves partnered in a game of pool in the players lounge of the Jones-Hill House practice facility.
Anderson and Tagovailoa had a large lead over their opponents and, according to Anderson, most of the balls that fell in the corners were because of Tagovailoa. However, with just the eight-ball left to bring the duo the win, Tagovailoa insisted Anderson knock in the black and white ball.
It was a small, but meaningful gesture from Maryland’s quarterback, and one Anderson pinpoints as an example of who Tagovailoa is, how he treats his offensive line and how the relationship between the quarterback and his big men up front has evolved.
“He’s a really selfless guy no matter what he does... he's just been our guy,” Anderson said. “When somebody’s falling down, he picks us up and as far as the O-line, I feel like everybody respects him.”
Tagovailoa showcased his talent while breaking numerous program records last season, but the offensive line had an up-and-down season. Heading into this year, head coach Mike Locksley has repeatedly called the offensive line the most improved position group on the team.
With all five starters returning to the fold, how the guys perform in the trenches may very well decide the heights the offense can climb. Consistency is key for the talented position group, along with being in lockstep with Tagovailoa.
The junior quarterback has been taking care of the offensive line, well aware of the impact the group will have on his game and the team.
“Without them [the offensive lineman], there’s no me, there’s no receivers, there’s no any of us,” Tagovailoa said.
The game of pool was not the first time Tagovailoa showed love to his guys, or Anderson. Anderson had Popeyes delivered to his door one day — Tagovailoa placed the order.
Tagovailoa also often leaves donuts from Dunkin’ in the meeting room for the group, a token of appreciation for keeping him up right.
It’s common for a quarterback to take care of his offensive lineman, especially at the professional level. Fans often hear about NFL quarterbacks buying the offensive lineman game consoles or other lucrative gifts. Tagovailoa’s deeds, of course, are on a much smaller scale, but it’s not about the monetary value, rather the meaning of the gesture, and Tagovailoa’s protection is taking notice.
“He treats us well. You know, you got to feed the guys who give you the time to get the ball out in space,” Anderson said. “So he takes good care of us.”
All five offensive lineman starters have been on the team as long as, if not longer, than Tagovailoa.
Offensive line coach Brian Braswell has a front row seat to the effort Tagovailoa puts in to grow the relationship, and how much it has paid off.
After the season last spring, the entire offensive line room went out to dinner together one night. Tagovailoa tagged along, to the surprise and delight of the group.
“They were like ‘wow,’ you know, here’s our guy coming with us,” Braswell said.
Reflecting on the donuts that appear in the meeting room, Braswell said, “That small donut goes a long way for those guys, like man, we’ve got to make sure we do everything we can to protect this guy because this guy’s looking out for us.”
Tagovailoa evidently understands the old football saying that the offensive line is a quarterback’s best friend.
“Those guys just put their head down and continue to work,” Tagovailoa said. “I always try to give them love, whatever I can, but the relationships we’ve built throughout this whole offseason, it’s been really good.”
“He’s a great guy,” senior tackle Jaelyn Duncan said about Tagovailoa. “He’s one of my favorite players on the team, got to love your QB.”
Anderson, a veteran and leader at the position, had skepticism when Tagovailoa first came to Maryland. But the Hawaii native quickly erased any doubts.
“When he got here I was kind of like ‘oh this is Tua’s little brother, he’s probably got a hothead,’ but, he’s a real down-to-earth guy, he doesn’t brag about much. He’s really humble,” Anderson said.
As the relationship has grown, so has Tagovailoa’s leadership approach. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Tagovailoa has challenged guys in the past. But, according to Enos, that extra emotion Tagovailoa shows is because he expects excellence out of himself, and the people around him, including the offensive line.
“I think Taulia really grew last year a lot as a leader, and I think part of that growth has really become a really good relationship between him and the O-line,” Enos said.
Tagovailoa’s game has undoubtedly improved heading into his third season as a Terp, and so has the offensive line room. Maryland is expecting big things from its offense and that starts with the connectivity between Tagovailoa and his offensive line, an alliance that continues to develop just days away from the season opener against Buffalo on Saturday.
“For a quarterback and leader I think it’s important to show humility. It’s really genuine, it’s how I feel, I really feel like we’re all brothers,” Tagovailoa said.