Rainbow Warriors rally from 17-point deficit, beat Matadors 80-75

HONOLULU (AP) — Eddie Stansberry hit five 3-pointers and finished with 22 points, Zigmars Raimo scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat Cal State Northridge 80-75 on Saturday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Freshman Justin Webster added a season-high 17 points and Drew Buggs had eights points and 10 assists — his third consecutive game with at least 10 assists — for the Rainbow Warriors (14-6, 5-1 Big West Conference).

Lamine Diane hit a short jumper to give CSUN a 17-point lead with 11 minutes to play, but Stansberry and Webster each hit a 3-pointer before Dawson Carper made back-to-back layups to cap an 11-0 run about two minutes later. Raimo made back-to-back baskets to give the Rainbow Warriors a 76-75 lead — their first since the game’s opening minutes — with 40 seconds left and spark an 8-0 closing run.

Diane had 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Elijah Harkless scored 16 points for CSUN (9-15, 4-4).

Hawaii outscored the Matadors 48-34 in the second half. The Rainbow Warriors had 15 of their 21 assists, and just one of their six turnovers, after halftime.

UH has won four straight and improved to 4-0 at home in conference play this season.

The Rainbow Warriors next play at UC Santa Barbara on Thursday and at Cal Poly next Saturday.

Mariota helping Titans on, off field despite being benched

By TERESA M. WALKER

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill in mid-October after a 2-4 start. Finding the No. 2 pick overall from the 2015 draft isn’t that hard during their amazing playoff run.

Just keep an eye on the field.

The Titans (11-7) have gotten Mariota into each of their past three games with him completing a pass in two games while going out for a pass just last week. Coach Mike Vrabel makes clear they plan to keep tapping him as long as he’s still on the roster.

“Well, we just like to try to have a role for everybody that’s active in the game,” Vrabel said. “And Marcus not only had a role in the game, but will continue to have a role in the game. He helped us prepare last week. I know that he’ll do the same thing this week. He’s been very supportive of Ryan, so we’ll keep finding ways for him to help us during the games.”

Mariota had a 92.3 passer rating during the regular season with seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions before being pulled in the third quarter of a 16-0 loss in Denver on Oct. 13. The Titans switched to Tannehill looking for more on offense, and they averaged 30.4 points the rest of the regular season.

That’s left Mariota running the scout team, and he’s helped by pretending to be Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson and now defending NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes in practice as the Titans prepare to visit the Kansas City Chiefs (13-4) on Sunday in the AFC championship game.

“I take every single day and I try to make the most of it,” Mariota said Wednesday before practice. “We have a great defense, and for me, it’s an opportunity to get better. Anyway I can help this team and try to mimic or emulate what these guys are during the game, I’m going to do it. I’m just going to try to help our guys out.”

That’s not all Mariota has done.

The Saint Louis School graduate wound up on the field in the regular-season finale at Houston, throwing a 24-yard pass to rookie A.J. Brown.

“He told me (during) the week he was going to throw me the ball if he checked it,” Brown said. “I knew the ball was coming to me. He told me to score, and I was kind of gassed at the moment. I was kind of down I didn’t score on that play.”

Mariota also came on the field in Foxborough, Mass., during the Titans’ 20-13 wild-card win over the Patriots. He completed a 4-yard pass to tight end MyCole Pruitt on the eighth play of the Titans’ opening drive. Coming in for one play and one throw isn’t what Mariota had been used to having started 61 of 63 games since the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner was drafted out of Oregon.

“It’s different for me for sure, but I appreciate the fact that I get to be out there with the guys,” Mariota said. “Every single time, every single moment that you’re on the field I never take it for granted.”

And he might’ve scored against Baltimore last week in the divisional round if only Derrick Henry hadn’t thrown into triple coverage to Corey Davis with his jump pass. Mariota was wide open out to the right, but Davis always was the intended target.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid remembers well Mariota leading the Titans to a 22-21 wild-card win on Jan. 6, 2018, when he even caught his own pass. So Reid is well aware that the Titans can use Mariota as another option.

“That’s one of the benefits to having him there,” Reid said. “He’s a Heisman winner, he can run the ball, he can throw the ball. He’s a good football player. You’ve got to be ready for that.”

Mariota earned $20.9 million this season with the Titans picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. With Tannehill and the Titans thriving together, Mariota will be a free agent March 18 with a new team in his future. Mariota says he’s focusing only on one day at a time.

“If I can just be present here and help our guys out, help this team out, everything else will fall into place,” Mariota said.

Washington State hires Rolovich away from UH

By TIM BOOTH

The Associated Press

Nick Rolovich has left behind the beaches of Oahu for the wheat fields of the Palouse and the chance to see if his pass-happy, high-scoring style can work at Washington State.

Rolovich was hired by Washington State on Tuesday, completing a whirlwind week for the Cougars that saw Mike Leach depart for Mississippi State after eight seasons. It didn’t take long for the Cougars to settle on Rolovich as Leach’s replacement, giving the 40-year-old a chance to lead a Power Five program.

“Nick Rolovich is a genuine person, a program builder, an innovator and the exact fit to lead Cougar football,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said in a statement. “Coach Rolovich is committed to academic achievement and developing every aspect of our student-athletes. He has a vision of taking Cougar football on a path to win championships.”

Rolovich agreed to a five-year contract that is expected to pay about $3 million per season. He will be introduced at a news conference on Thursday.

Rolovich has been in charge at the University of Hawaii for the past four seasons and led the Rainbow Warriors to the Mountain West Conference West Division title this season. UH went 10-5 overall, losing to Boise State in the MWC title game but rebounding to beat BYU in the Hawaii Bowl.

Rolovich oversaw a significant turnaround with his alma mater. When he took over at Hawaii in 2016, the former Warriors quarterback inherited a program that had won 11 total games in its first four seasons in the Mountain West. He won at least seven games in three of his four seasons.

“The excitement is real and it’s honest,” Rolovich said. “Most recently what Coach Leach has built gives us a high starting point. I appreciate him as a friend and what he has done to build the program. We are looking forward to learning more about the program, the history, the anecdotes and the legends of WSU football.”

The turnaround Rolovich produced at Hawaii was similar to what Leach did with the Cougars. Washington State was 9-40 before Leach arrived. The Cougars went 55-47 with six bowl appearances in Leach’s eight seasons.

Rolovich went 28-27 in four seasons with the Warriors, including three bowl appearances. He signed a two-year contract extension with Hawaii last January and made more than $600,000 in 2019.

Last season, the Rainbow Warriors went 2-1 against the Pac-12 with wins over Arizona and Oregon State but a loss on the road to Washington. Getting the better of the Huskies will be one of Rolovich’s priorities as Washington State has lost seven straight to Washington.

Meanwhile in Manoa, the search for Rolovich’s replacement is underway. Among the names being thrown around on social media are UH offensive coordinator Brian Smith and quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann — assuming Rolo’s former Warrior teammates don’t follow him to Pullman.

Regardless of who gets the job, quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is confident the Rainbow Warriors will be just fine.

“Me and my brothers in there, we’re still focused. We’re glued together,” Cordeiro, who is the likely starter next season after Cole McDonald declared for the NFL draft, told KHON2 on Tuesday. “We already know what we gotta do and it’s just us and we’re keeping our circle tight.”

Smith wins Sony Open after wild finish at Waialae

By DOUG FERGUSON

The Associated Press
HONOLULU — Cameron Smith was running out of holes, but not hope.
Smith was two shots behind with two holes to play in the steady rain Sunday at the Sony Open, and Brendan Steele had not shown any signs of cracking. Three holes later, Smith only had to two-putt from 10 feet to win a playoff.
“I just hung in there, and what do you know?” Smith said.
The 26-year-old Australian finally had a PGA Tour title he could call his own. He had won twice at the Australian PGA Championship, and he shared the team title with Jonas Blixt at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in 2017.
For this PGA Tour victory, his help came from the guy he was trying to beat.
Steele had a three-shot lead at Waialae Country Club when he holed a bunker shot for birdie on the 11th hole, and he never trailed the entire day until it fell apart at the end. He missed a 6-foot par putt on the 17th, and then hit a wild hook from the fairway on the par-5 18th and never had a reasonable look at birdie.
On the 10th hole for the playoff, Steele was in ideal position in the fairway, 88 yards from the hole, when he hit wedge over the green. He chipped off the rain-soaked grass and mud to 15 feet and missed the par putt. Smith, who had driven into right rough, chased his shot to 10 feet. He never imagined winning would come down to two putts from short range.
“I thought I had to birdie 17 and do something special on 18,” Smith said. “Things fell into place.”
He helped with a clutch putt. On the 18th, Smith hit a 3-iron just short and into a bunker, blasted out over the puddles forming on the green to 8 feet and knocked it in for a 2-under 68 to force a playoff.
Steele was trying to win for the first time in just over two years. This was hard to take.
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong today,” Steele said after a 71.
The victory assures Smith a spot in the Masters. He also is assured a return to Hawaii next year for the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
“That’s been one I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time, to finally say I’ve won an event by myself,” Smith said. “It’s quite good.”
They finished at 11-under 269, the highest winning score at the Sony Open in 15 years. The wind finally died to normal strength instead of 30 mph gusts, but the rain was steady, and the course was soaked.
Steele felt that might have cost him on the 10th, which had been playing straight into strong wind all week. At the end, it was nothing more than a strong breeze. The pin was back. The green was soft. Anything at the pin likely would spin off the shelf and leave a long putt, and Smith already was 10 feet away.
“I played the hole six times this week and it’s been blowing pretty hard every day,” he said. “I don’t really have a gauge for it to be blowing just 5 mph or whatever it was. I think I just over played it because of the way it’s been the last few days.”
Webb Simpson shot 67 and finished alone in third. With a bogey on the 18th, Ryan Palmer had to settle for a 68 and tied for fourth with Graeme McDowell, who had a 64 to match the low score Sunday.
*****
PGA Sony Open
Sunday’s Final Round • At Honolulu
Cameron Smith (500), $1,188,000 70-65-66-68—269 -11
Brendan Steele (300), $719,400 68-66-64-71—269 -11
Webb Simpson (190), $455,400 71-66-66-67—270 -10
Kevin Kisner (115), $277,750 69-69-64-69—271 -9
Graeme McDowell (115), $277,750 71-69-67-64—271 -9
Ryan Palmer (115), $277,750 67-68-68-68—271 -9
Lanto Griffin (88), $214,500 71-69-68-64—272 -8
Ted Potter, Jr. (88), $214,500 67-69-70-66—272 -8
Cameron Davis (75), $179,850 68-66-71-68—273 -7
Bo Hoag (75), $179,850 70-65-69-69—273 -7
Henrik Norlander (75), $179,850 71-66-68-68—273 -7
Keegan Bradley (54), $116,050 69-66-69-70—274 -6
Corey Conners (54), $116,050 68-71-69-66—274 -6
Joel Dahmen (54), $116,050 74-66-68-66—274 -6
Tom Hoge (54), $116,050 71-68-67-68—274 -6
Charles Howell III (54), $116,050 72-67-66-69—274 -6
Peter Malnati (54), $116,050 72-66-68-68—274 -6
Hideki Matsuyama (54), $116,050 74-67-67-66—274 -6
Brandt Snedeker (54), $116,050 72-67-69-66—274 -6
Vaughn Taylor (54), $116,050 75-66-66-67—274 -6
Mark Anderson (37), $64,350 72-68-64-71—275 -5
Emiliano Grillo (37), $64,350 70-69-67-69—275 -5
Sungjae Im (37), $64,350 69-68-67-71—275 -5
Collin Morikawa (37), $64,350 65-70-68-72—275 -5
Rob Oppenheim (37), $64,350 70-65-72-68—275 -5
Rory Sabbatini (37), $64,350 68-67-70-70—275 -5
Brendon Todd (37), $64,350 68-70-69-68—275 -5
Zach Johnson (29), $46,200 69-68-70-69—276 -4
Marc Leishman (29), $46,200 68-70-71-67—276 -4
Sam Ryder (29), $46,200 67-68-73-68—276 -4
D.J. Trahan (29), $46,200 69-68-71-68—276 -4
Brian Harman (22), $36,850 68-68-74-67—277 -3
Russell Knox (22), $36,850 70-65-70-72—277 -3
Matthew NeSmith (22), $36,850 71-69-69-68—277 -3
Alex Noren (22), $36,850 69-69-71-68—277 -3
Nick Taylor (22), $36,850 70-69-67-71—277 -3
Tim Wilkinson (22), $36,850 68-69-70-70—277 -3
Abraham Ancer (15), $27,390 69-71-69-69—278 -2
Daniel Berger (15), $27,390 70-70-69-69—278 -2
Michael Gellerman (15), $27,390 69-67-73-69—278 -2
Matt Jones (15), $27,390 67-71-70-70—278 -2
Patrick Rodgers (15), $27,390 68-69-69-72—278 -2
Chase Seiffert (15), $27,390 71-69-71-67—278 -2
Michael Thompson (15), $27,390 70-69-69-70—278 -2
Joseph Bramlett (9), $18,497 73-67-72-67—279 -1
Kramer Hickok (9), $18,497 72-68-71-68—279 -1
Rikuya Hoshino, $18,497 73-67-71-68—279 -1
Jerry Kelly (9), $18,497 70-70-71-68—279 -1
Ben Martin (9), $18,497 73-68-65-73—279 -1
Pat Perez (9), $18,497 68-73-66-72—279 -1
Scott Piercy (9), $18,497 70-69-71-69—279 -1
Jimmy Walker (9), $18,497 70-71-67-71—279 -1
Nate Lashley (6), $15,609 70-69-69-72—280 E
Carlos Ortiz (6), $15,609 72-69-71-68—280 E
Sepp Straka (6), $15,609 70-69-76-65—280 E
Brian Stuard (6), $15,609 73-68-72-67—280 E
Rhein Gibson (5), $14,916 70-69-73-69—281 +1
Scott Harrington (5), $14,916 69-71-71-70—281 +1
Harry Higgs (5), $14,916 73-68-72-68—281 +1
Joaquin Niemann (5), $14,916 71-70-71-69—281 +1
Andrew Putnam (5), $14,916 69-67-73-72—281 +1
Hudson Swafford (5), $14,916 69-67-75-70—281 +1
Zac Blair (4), $14,388 72-67-74-69—282 +2
Talor Gooch (4), $14,388 70-71-70-71—282 +2
Mikumu Horikawa, $14,190 73-67-76-67—283 +3
Satoshi Kodaira (4), $14,058 69-70-72-75—286 +6

More wind at Waialae, but no Thomas or Reed

By DOUG FERGUSON

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Different island, similar result. Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed finished the tournament with the same score.

Only this was Friday at the Sony Open.

There was no playoff, only a plane back to the Mainland.

In wind that was vexing no matter how strong and soft greens so rare for this tournament, Thomas and Reed both missed the cut at Waialae Country Club and missed out on what could be a weekend where anything goes.

Brendan Steele birdied five of his last six holes — the exception was a double bogey — for a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Cameron Davis, who also had a 66.

They were at 6-under 134, the highest score to lead the Sony Open through 36 holes since 2006. More unusual was the cut was at 1-over 141, leaving only a seven-shot differential between first and worst.

Five days ago, Thomas outlasted Reed in a dynamic playoff on Maui that lasted three extra holes and went to the very edge of darkness at the Kapalua Plantation Course in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Neither will be around for the outcome on Oahu.

“I’m playing great, playing good enough to still be winning this week,” Thomas said after two double bogeys ruined his round of 71. “Probably a little exhausted from last week, which is a good thing. No, I mean, played like crap so I deserve to have the weekend off.”

It was his first missed cut since the U.S. Open last year at Pebble Beach.

Reed made a 35-foot par putt and chipped in for birdie. It was all the other putts he missed, along with a flubbed pitch that went into a bunker and led to double bogey, that cost him. He shot 74.

They both finished at 143 to miss by two shots.

“I was missing my putts short, I had two three-putts. I missed everything,” Reed said.

It was his first missed cut since the PGA Championship in May.

They had company. Defending champion Matt Kuchar made only three birdies in 36 holes and missed the cut by one. They all left behind a leaderboard more crowded than the H-1.

Collin Morikawa, the first-round leader, kept missing in the wrong spot and had to birdie his last two holes for a 70. He was among eight players who were one shot behind at 5-under 135, a group that included Keegan Bradley, Ryan Palmer, Russell Knox and Cameron Smith.

Bradley finished last year at No. 51 in the world ranking, just outside the top 50 who earned invitations to the Masters. There’s another world ranking cutoff the week before the Masters. He also could take care of an invitation by winning.

That’s a long way off, especially in the gusts that approached 30 mph in the second round and greens at Waialae that are never this soft. The course is getting soaked by rain every night, with occasional pop-up showers — even when the sun is shining — during the day.

Approach shots that typically bounce forward are now spinning back. Pitch marks are found more easily than an ABC Store in Waikiki.

That’s usually a recipe for low scoring anywhere, but not in this kind of wind.

“I have not played in wind this tough,” Palmer said “You’re pumping 6-iron from 14. That says a lot of what the winds are doing.”

Eric Dugas missed the cut after shooting an 8-over 78. The Makena Golf & Beach Club pro, who opened with a 71, had eight bogeys — four each on the back and front nines — and no birdies in the second round to miss the cut by eight shots.

With a baby on the way, Wie still has eye on golf

By DOUG FERGUSON

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Michelle Wie always thought if she ever had children, that would be the end of her golf career.

Now she is more inspired than ever to return.

Wie, who married Golden State Warriors executive Jonnie West in August, announced they are having their first child — a girl — this summer.

“I do know, especially now having a baby girl, the motivation to come back is even stronger,” Wie said during a conference call Friday. “Because I’m having a girl, I want her to see me play, and be a strong woman. That’s really important. I always thought I’d be the person that I’m going to quit when I have kids. Now it’s different.”

Wie has been one of the most recognizable players in women’s golf from the time she was a teen prodigy in Hawaii, coming within one shot of making the cut at the Sony Open on the PGA Tour as a ninth-grader at nearby Punahou School.

Her surprise announcement Thursday on Instagram capped off 10 months she described as a whirlwind.

On the golf course, she never fully recovered from wrist surgery and played only four tournaments. Her last event was the KPMG Women’s PGA at Hazeltine, where she opened with an 84 and tearfully wondered how much longer she could keep going.

Off the course, life was never better. Wie and West, the son of NBA great Jerry West, announced their engagement in March. They were married in August and Wie, who graduated from Stanford, moved back to the Bay Area.

And now they’re starting a family.

“I’m so blessed — 2019 could have been a bad year for me,” Wie said.

Wie, who turned 30 in October, has five victories on the LPGA Tour. The biggest was the U.S. Women’s Open in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2, but her career has been slowed by injuries, even as a teenager, and the most recent injury raised speculation she might be done.

Wie worked for Golf Channel in the studio during the Solheim Cup, and CBS Sports announced late last year it was adding her to its broadcast team, including a role on one of its platforms at the Masters, though specifics have not been revealed.

Having a daughter on the way has changed her outlook.

Wie said the first trimester was a struggle — “I don’t think they should call it morning sickness. It’s 24/7,” she said with a laugh — but she even raised the notion of playing before the baby arrives. She says she has chipped and putted, but mostly stayed in the house upon learning she was pregnant.

“Ideally, I would love to have the experience of playing while pregnant. We’ll see,” Wie said. “I’m not ruling anything out.”

Wie says she has long admired women on the LPGA Tour who have played after having children, notably Solheim Cup captains Juli Inkster and Catriona Matthew, most recently Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller. She always wanted to fashion herself after Lorena Ochoa, who retired at No. 1 in the world because she wanted to start a family.

“When she did that, I thought that was pretty cool,” Wie said.

She also thought about Suzann Pettersen, who stepped away from golf when she had a son, returned at the urging of Matthew and made a 7-foot putt on the final hole to win the Solheim Cup for Europe.

And she thought about Tiger Woods and the moment he shared at Augusta National in April.

“I see Tiger winning the Masters again, the comments he made about how special it was that his kids were out there and saw him play. Things like that motivate me,” Wie said. “It’s definitely a dream for my kids to be in the crowd and watch me play.”

For now, Wie says she has kept busy with various projects. Along with her golf, Wie is known for her artistic flair, from painting to fashion. But her spare time does not include making clothes for her daughter.

“I will not be knitting baby clothes. I’ll be buying,” she said. “I don’t have the patience.”

Wie expecting first child this summer

The Associated Press

Michelle Wie is expecting her first child — a girl — this summer.

The often-injured golfer from Honolulu announced the news Thursday on Instagram. She married Jonnie West, the son of NBA great Jerry West, in August.

“Babygirl, we love you so much already and we just can’t wait to meet you this summer!” Wie wrote.

Wie had surgery on her right hand in October 2018 to fix an avulsion fracture, bone chips and nerve entrapment. She hasn’t played on the LPGA Tour since withdrawing from the KPMG Women’s PGA in June.

Wie also recently joined CBS Sports for the Masters and several events.

Heisman reunion: Five winners suit up for Ravens-Titans playoff

By DAVID GINSBURG

The Associated Press

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The top prize for individual excellence in college football is the Heisman Trophy. For the first time in the Super Bowl era, five winners of that prestigious keepsake are expected to suit up in the same game, each in pursuit of the NFL’s most coveted team award — the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Baltimore will bring three Heisman winners (Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Robert Griffin III) into Saturday’s playoff game against Tennessee, which has a pair of players (Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry) who accepted the trophy presented annually to the most outstanding performer in college football.

“Five? I didn’t even think about that,” said Jackson, who won the 2016 Heisman with Louisville. “It’s going to be incredible.”

For all he accomplished at Louisville during that amazing season three years ago, Jackson would gladly trade his statue for the opportunity to hoist the trophy in Miami on Feb. 2.

“That’s the trophy I want,” Jackson said. “That’s the best trophy you can get playing football. That’s what I want, that’s what the team wants, that’s what we’re going to get.”

Jackson hopes to receive help from Ingram (Alabama, 2009) and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III (Baylor, 2011). Griffin will start on the bench against the Titans and Ingram is questionable with a calf injury, but earlier this season all three were in the backfield for what was dubbed “The Heisman Package.”

Could we see it again this weekend?

“It could resurface but that’s not my decision,” Griffin said. “I know we’re focused on beating the Tennessee Titans, and if the Heisman package is part of that, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Griffin chuckled when asked the significance of having Baltimore’s Heisman trio being joined at the stadium by Mariota (Oregon, 2014) and Henry (Alabama, 2015).

“I wouldn’t say we’re getting dressed and going out on the field and saying, ‘Oh man, there’s five Heisman Trophy winners out there.’ But it is a cool aspect of the game,” Griffin said. “Maybe we’ll get a picture after the game, but I know that’s not what we’re thinking about right now.”

The Titans benched Mariota in mid-October after the offense managed only one touchdown in a 10-quarter span and was coming off a shutout loss in Denver. Since being replaced by Ryan Tannehill, the Saint Louis School graduate has been playing the role of the opposing quarterback on the scout team, this week doing his best imitation of Jackson for the Tennessee defense.

Mariota has played in each of the past two games, however, throwing a 24-yard pass to A.J. Brown in the regular-season finale win in Houston and a 4-yard toss to Dion Lewis in last week’s playoff win over New England. Mariota will hit the free-agent market in March.

Henry and Ingram both surpassed 1,000 yards rushing this year.

Winning the Heisman Trophy automatically makes the recipient part of a very special club. That’s why the modern football world has never before seen five Heisman winners in uniform at the same NFL game.

“There are only so few of us, and every year there’s only one more,” Griffin said. “So this game, it’s something that you’ll reflect on later in life and think, ‘That was a really cool moment.’ But when you’re in the moment, it’s not as if we’re all walking around with HEISMAN on the back of our shirt or carrying our Heisman Trophies.”

“If no one told me there were five Heisman Trophy winners in the game, it wouldn’t click for me,’’ RG3 added. “But yeah, now that people have been saying it, I’m honored to be part of that.”

Tagovailoa decides to enter NFL draft

By JOHN ZENOR

The Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa put an end to the initial question about his future, announcing Monday that he is entering the NFL draft and closing the book on a college career that began with a splash and ended with a devastating injury.

Now the questions will be about where the Saint Louis School graduate will be drafted, not if he would turn pro.

Tagovailoa is recovering from right hip surgery in November following an injury on Nov. 16 against Mississippi State that ended projections of the star quarterback being the potential No. 1 overall pick. The serious injury has made his draft status less clear, though Alabama team surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain has said Tagovailoa’s prognosis is “excellent” and predicts a full recovery.

Tagovailoa said during a news conference that he’s optimistic he’ll be able to play next season, but said it’s hard to predict how high he’ll be drafted.

“It’s a unique situation, for sure,” Tagovailoa said with his parents and little brother, Taulia, watching from the front row. “A lot of the guys, the general managers, the owners, that I’ve talked to kind of said the same thing. They kind of look at this injury like a knee injury almost, although it’s not. In a way that, OK, are we going to take a chance on this guy or will he be able to possibly do a pro day before the draft and what-not?

“Really, the biggest thing they want to do is just see that we can move and we can just be back to how we were playing prior to the injury.”

This year’s draft class of quarterbacks includes LSU Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and Oregon’s Justin Herbert. If Tagovailoa had returned to Alabama and looked like his old self, there was still no guarantee he would be the top pick in a 2021 draft that will likely include Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.

Tagovailoa, the 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up, helped Alabama navigate the transition into one of the nation’s top passing offenses. In less than two seasons as starter, he set an Alabama record with 87 career touchdown passes and ranks third with 7,442 passing yards.

He was regarded as one of the top Heisman candidates again before the season-ending injury. In his absence, Alabama lost to rival Auburn and failed to make the College Football Playoffs for the first time.

“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program here as any player that we’ve ever had,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “And I’m not just talking about as a football player. He’s got great character. He’s a great leader. He’s done a wonderful job in the classroom.

“There’s a spirit about him that has impacted myself and everybody around him in a very, very positive way.”

Tagovailoa, who went to New York to have his hip examined over the weekend, acknowledged the uncertainty of his draft status. He’ll continue to rehab in Tuscaloosa.

Tagovailoa demurred when asked if he felt confident he’d still be a high first-round pick.

“I don’t think I can tell you that,” he said. “I don’t think any of the teams can tell you that. It really depends on how the doctors’ report goes with the MRI and my X-rays at the three-month mark (from the injury).

“But then again, I think what factors into this decision, too, is our faith. It’s a leap of it.”

Tagovailoa also had other injury issues during his career. He left the Southeastern Conference championship game as a sophomore with an ankle injury and missed the second half of the Tennessee game and the Arkansas game with a high ankle sprain.

He returned to throw for 418 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to No. 1 LSU and was injured late in the first half of the next game.

“I’d say it’s been a roller coaster because I’ve gotten to see the spectrum of both sides, having a lot of success, winning a national championship, losing a national championship,” Tagovailoa said. “Going through adversity, coming back from it, continuing to go through it. It’s just been a mixture of emotions.

“I think coming to a place like this has helped set me up to be in the best position to become successful later in life.”

The left-handed passer from Hawaii became one of Alabama’s most prolific passers, and most popular players. Tagovailoa became a sensation in the national championship game two years ago. The freshman came off the bench to lead the Crimson Tide to a comeback win over Georgia, throwing the game-winning touchdown to DeVonta Smith in overtime.

He then beat out two-year starter Jalen Hurts for the starting job. After the season, Hurts transferred to Oklahoma and was the Heisman runner-up while leading the Sooners into the playoffs.

But it had become Tua’s team well before that. Now, Alabama begins a search for his successor who can keep the program in national title contention.

Mac Jones started the final two regular season games and the Citrus Bowl against Michigan. He passed for 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions.

He finished with a big bowl performance, passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns in the Western Carolina and Auburn in a 35-16 win.

Jones could face competition from freshman Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother, and incoming five-star recruit Bryce Young.

Australia’s PM sorry for vacation amid wildfires

SYDNEY (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologized Sunday for taking a family vacation in Hawaii as deadly bushfires raged across several states, destroying homes and claiming the lives of two volunteer firefighters.

Morrison cut short a vacation with his wife and adult children amid public anger at his absence during a national crisis, and arrived home Saturday night. He spoke to reporters Sunday morning while visiting the headquarters of the Rural Fire Service in Sydney.

“If you had your time over again and you had the benefit of hindsight, we would have made different decisions,” Morrison said. “I am sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your kids, you try and keep it.”

“But as prime minister, you have other responsibilities, and I accept that and I accept the criticism,” he added.