Wed, 12 May 2021

Talanoa Hufanga's Reaction is What the NFL Draft is All About

San Francisco 49ers
03 May 2021, 05:44 GMT+10

Scott Bair

The NFL Draft is great theater for a few reasons. The first and most apparent is seeing the talent your favorite team (the 49ers, obviously) acquires on its mission to win the Super Bowl. The second, and most moving, is watching 259 consecutive dreams come true on live television.

Reactions to great news are varied. Some are lucky enough to walk across the NFL Draft stage and hug the commissioner. Others have parties with jumping and screaming when the right name scrolls across the screen. Some enter the league a little angry, fueled by a perceived draft slight. Others are overcome by raw, emphatic emotion regardless of round.

There are only two words to describe USC defensive back Talanoa Hufanga's response to the 49ers taking him No. 180 overall on Saturday afternoon.

Pure joy.

It was clear and present during a post-selection meeting with the media, evident on his face and in his tone. Hufanga wasn't sobbing. He was simply happy.

That genuine human reaction, in short, is what the NFL Draft is all about.

"The tears came already, just so you guys know," Hufanga said with a thousand-watt smile. "This is such a blessing. The family has been through a lot. My dad is from an island where he grew up with dirt floors. When you make that transition, and I got to see where he grew up and see what it was like, you're grateful for these opportunities, how we can live our life and how I can help better our lifestyle as well. That's what drives me. My mom has been there and been my backbone as well.

"I have such a great family support system. I just want to make the most of it and cherish these moments. These are special. A lot of guys can get carried away with dollar signs, but for me, that didn't matter. I just wanted an opportunity. Give me one chance (and) I'm going to make the most of it."

Hufanga's "pure joy" is the exact way he plays. Maybe that comes with counting three cousins as USC teammates, which made his college experience truly special. Maybe it comes from dealing with shoulder injuries before playing the 2020 season completely healthy. Maybe it's just Hufanga being his genuine self.

"That's who I am and how I play this game," the versatile safety said. "It's not a matter of money. It's a matter of passion. I'm grateful for this, to be able to play and be able to see my parents smile when I step on the field."

His mindset comes with no ego. Many talk after getting drafted about making an instant impact at their primary position. Hufanga didn't do that, but retained lofty goals heading into 2021 that'll make special teams coordinator Richard Hightower smile.

"This is a big, big statement, but it's something I've always preached," Hufanga said. "Being a special teams Pro Bowler my first year, that's a goal of mine. A lot of guys get caught up in playing right off the bat. I understand that. For me, there's a level to it and I want to be the best I can possibility be."

Hufanga worked to be his best football self by training with fellow USC alum and Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu this offseason. He learned a ton about the NFL, about the value of versatility and coachability. The biggest takeaway from one of the best safeties ever was about both life and football, one that certainly impacted his reaction to Saturday's big draft moment.

"The most important thing he taught me is staying present in the moment," Hufanga said. "There are times where you can get ahead of yourself and think about the wrong moments and look down the line when you should be focused on what the day has to offer. I truly try to stand by that. I try to live by that. If I can be present with my family, be present with you guys on this call. Man. (This day) means so much to me. I'm so grateful. This is so unreal."

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