Tua crutches

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) arrives on crutches before the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium. On Thursday, Tagovailoa said he is undecided on his future while he recovers from hip surgery. [MICKEY WELSH/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

TUSCALOOSA — Despite rampant speculation to the contrary, Tua Tagovailoa still has no idea what his future holds, especially especially in regard to the NFL.

“This is probably going to be the biggest decision of my life, this is where I seek advice from what I believe (in) and advice from my parents. But at the end of the day, this decision comes down to me,” Tagovailoa told reporters during a scheduled press conference Thursday afternoon. “Whether or not I feel like it's right for me to stay or right for me to go. It's just a really, really big decision. And everybody just wants to know, so that's what makes it even bigger I'd say."

Tagovailoa is less than three weeks removed from undergoing major hip surgery Nov. 18 in Houston to repair a right hip dislocation with a posterior wall fracture — an injury most commonly associated with high-speed motor vehicle accidents — sustained late in the second quarter against Mississippi State.

Tagovailoa said he hasn’t set a definitive timetable for making any decision regarding his future, outside of the NFL’s Jan. 20 deadline for underclassmen to make such declarations.

“The decision could be tomorrow, the decision could be on the 20th when the deadline is,” Tagovailoa said. “Any time between that I’ll make my decision.”

Although he’s acknowledged the potential benefit of returning to school in order to fully recover before entering the NFL and hopefully maximize his draft stock, Tagovailoa admitted a potential Top 10-15 pick grade in April could be difficult to leave on the table.

“I think that’d be tough to pass up, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that in some aspects,” Tagovailoa said. “I don’t want to say too much, because what me and my family talk about, I kind of want it to be just between me and my family.”

Tagovailoa went through his first rehabilitation session Wednesday in Birmingham where he said doctors were encouraged by the range of horizontal and lateral movement of his right leg. He continues to get regular treatment at Alabama’s football facility to help facilitate blood circulation to the hip.

During a sit-down interview with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit on Tuesday, Tagovailoa explained he is total non-weight-bearing through the first six weeks after surgery — so through the end of December — before transitioning to crutches or a walker to get around until three months post-op. Tagovailoa is expected to resume some light physical activity around the 12-week window out from surgery, so roughly the middle of February, which would still keep him out of any serious participation in the NFL Combine (Feb. 24-March 2).

“I’ll be a lot better walking at that time (after 12 weeks, but) I’m not sure when I’ll be able to start running through,” Tagovailoa told Herbstreit. “I think a lot of pool movement will help with all of that too. As far as I know, I’m just trying to walk first.”

Tagovailoa is just one of nearly a dozen Alabama juniors that are weighing whether or not to declare early for the NFL or return to school.

Among those underclassmen that have yet to announce their intentions include receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith; offensive tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr.; running back Najee Harris; outside linebacker Terrell Lewis; defensive back Xavier McKinney; and inside linebacker Dylan Moses, who missed the 2019 season with an ACL injury. Redshirt junior offensive linemen Deonte Brown and Landon Dickerson, as well as junior defensive end LaBryan Ray are others that are eligible to enter the NFL but aren’t expected to leave early.

Like Tagovailoa, Jeudy, Leatherwood, Lewis, McKinney, Moses, Ruggs, Smith and Wills Jr. have all received first-round projections in multiple online mock drafts.

“For me, I think it’s different,” Tagovailoa said. “With a lot of the guys that are draft-eligible, you can’t really tell them what they should or shouldn't do. I think the best thing for me as a teammate is to support them in whatever decision they decide to make.”

As far as his own decision, that isn’t something he’s rushing.

“It’s something I still need to sit down and talk to about with my family,” Tagovailoa said, “and I really haven’t had that opportunity because of the rehab that I need to go through, and I’m still trying to finish up my schooling.”

Among the complications factoring into the uncertainty  is whether he will even be able to play again, given the potential for avascular necrosis (AVN), which can take between three to six months to develop.

“The thing that makes it uncertain is that when the hip dislocates and it fractures off part of the cup part of the hip joint,” Dr. Walt Lowe, the chief of orthopaedic surgery at Memorial Hermann in Houston where Tagovailoa underwent his surgery, Nov. 16, said. "Sometimes it disrupts the blood supply to the end of the femur — the lower leg part of the hip joint.”

AVN forced legendary Auburn running back Bo Jackson to retire from both football and baseball in the early 1990s, and eventually led to severe arthritis and the need for a hip replacement at the age 29. Jackson and Tagovailoa spoke before the Iron Bowl at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Bo Jackson, he gave me some insight into not trying to rush the process and trying to get back,” said Tagovailoa, who reaffirmed their hip injuries are “two totally different situations.”

That said, even the slightest reduction in proper blood flow to the femoral head can still result in AVN and lead to rapid degeneration of the bone itself.

"That might ruin his hip joint and make playing football impossible," said Dr. Mark Adickes, a former NFL offensive lineman and practicing orthopedic surgeon and medical expert for ESPN.

Despite that potential, Tagovailoa said his faith has helped him stay positive.

“I firmly believe in the Bible and the Bible says you walk by faith and not by sight, and that’s pretty much what I’m holding onto,” Tagovailoa said. “Just trust in the good Lord and he’s the best doctor for me and what I believe in. … I feel this is something that’s bigger than me. I still feel like I’ll be able to come back 100% and be able to play to the capability that I’m able to play at.”

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