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Tua Tagovailoa: Heisman weekend split with ankle rehab

NEW YORK — The most watched left ankle in college football has quite a ride.

“It’s a four-wheeler,” Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said of the scooter that will help him negotiate the streets of the Big Apple this weekend with his lower left leg—with its recently surgically repaired left ankle—in a boot. Tagovailoa has no plans, however, to take it off-road when he returns to Tuscaloosa. “It doesn’t have four-wheel drive,” he cracked. “Just two-wheel high and two-wheel low.”

The man standing next to Tagovailoa pointed to the Alabama sticker in the middle of a wheel. “You did customize the rims,” Jeff Allen said.

We know coach Nick Saban is the most important person in the Alabama football organization, but Allen might be the second-most-important between now and the Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29. On Friday morning, Allen was putting Tagovailoa through rehab exercises on a private jet as it soared between Atlanta and New York. After Tagovailoa, one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy, finished a slate of Heisman activities that included multiple rounds of interviews and ringing the closing bell on a tough day at the New York Stock Exchange, the rest of his time belonged to Allen as Tagovailoa tries to rehab the ankle he sprained in Alabama’s SEC championship win against Georgia and get ready to play against the Sooners, who are led by fellow Heisman finalist Kyler Murray.

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So far, Tagovailoa has been thrilled with Allen’s work. “He’s done a tremendous job up to this point,” Tagovailoa said in an interview I recorded with him for SiriusXM. (Listen Friday and Saturday on Channel 84 or on demand on the SiriusXM app.) “I’m walking. It’s only been a couple, two, three days since I got out of surgery.” The hope for the Tide is that Tagovailoa will be able to practice at some point between when the Tide reconvene next week and when they travel to Florida for final game preparations on Christmas Eve.

Typically, players fly commercial for the awards circuit, but Alabama is flying Tagovailoa private so his rehab schedule isn’t interrupted. His injury and treatment are similar to what Crimson Tide backup Jalen Hurts dealt with earlier this season. Hurts injured his ankle against Tennessee on Oct. 20 and next played in a game against The Citadel on Nov. 17. The SEC title game was Dec. 1, so the timeframes would be nearly identical.

“We did an MRI on [Tagovailoa’s] ankle,” Saban told reporters earlier this week. “He had a high ankle sprain. We’ve got a great medical staff here, and they scope those things to get him to come back together a little bit quicker. It’s usually about a two-week deal. We’ll re-evaluate him in two weeks and see where he is. Very similar injury to what Jalen had, which took him a couple weeks to come back, as well. That’s as much as we can say about it right now, but we’re hopeful that by the time we get started in practice, he’ll be ready to go.”

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For now, Tagovailoa will wait to learn whether he, Murray or Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haksins won the Heisman. The winner will be announced Saturday night at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square. Tagovailoa plans to wear crimson on Saturday. He also knows he’ll wear gray on his lower left leg. “It’s one color,” Tagovailoa said, lifting up his boot. “They’re going to have to paint this.”

Tagovailoa was predicted to be a runaway winner as recently as a few weeks ago, but Murray now is a slight favorite to win. No matter what happens Saturday, Tagovailoa just wants to make sure he’s healthy enough to face Murray on the field on Dec. 29.

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