Taniela Tupou is 'staying home, baby'
Taniela Tupou was on a job site.
But, while he was focused on the day’s construction gig, he was passively paying attention to the first day of the XFL Draft. The former defensive lineman at Washington didn’t know when, or if, his name would be called, but he wanted to be ready if he got word that new life had been injected into his professional football career.
In order to complete the day’s task, Tupou needed to pick up concrete from Home Depot. So, he drove over with his cousin, who was streaming the draft on his phone. When they got to the store, the cell-phone reception was spotty, so there was a lag in the broadcast.
As they were loading the concrete, Tupou got a text from his wife, Meg.
“You’re staying home,” she wrote.
Tupou wasn’t sure what his wife meant, so he replied with a simple, “what?”
“You’re staying home,” she wrote again.
As the second text landed, the stream of the draft had caught up.
“Yo!” his cousin said. “They just drafted you!”
Tupou forgot all about the concrete.
“Let’s gooooo!” he shouted in the middle of the store.
He ignored the confused reaction of the other shoppers.
“We’re staying home, baby!” he shouted in celebration. “Let’s go!”
For the fourth time in his football career, Tupou is playing for the hometown team. He was a star at Archbishop Murphy High School before heading to the University of Washington. He started his first NFL game at fullback as a rookie with the Seahawks and now he’s a member of the Dragons.
“It’s crazy,” said Tupou, standing outside the Archbishop Murphy locker room last Friday.
When Tupou isn’t working – in addition to construction he works security and Quality Athletics and Ozzie’s in downtown Seattle and has started picking up night shifts at the Amazon facility in Everett – and spending time with his family – Meg and his son, TJ – he is volunteering as a mentor at his alma mater.
“Helping out here as much as I can is a huge blessing,” he said. “These kids, high school football is one of the most pure things. Just seeing these guys come out here, run around and grind, just because they love it, keeps that same fire in me.”
When Tupou is on the field with the Wildcats, he is dialed in. He works through swim moves on the sideline as the team’s defensive linemen attempt to bring down the opposing quarterback. He celebrates their successes as if they were his own, his love of the game on display from the opening kickoff through the postgame handshake.
He volunteers his time, because he wants the Wildcats to understand he once walked in their shoes.
“If I can do it, why can’t you?,” he tells Archbishop Murphy players. “We came from the same place. Everything on this field, it was the same thing.”
Since graduating from Washington, Tupou’s NFL journey took him from Seattle to Atlanta and then Arizona. He played for the San Diego Fleet in the AAF before joining the XFL Player Pool and being drafted by Seattle.
The journey hasn’t always been easy, but hardest part has been the time away from his family.
“Shout out to my wife,” he said. “She did her whole pregnancy by herself while I was in Atlanta. Luckily, we played the Saints on a Thursday night and I got to come home and watch my son being born. I got to witness that.
“That whole process is just hard. There are times, after a hard day of practice, when things aren’t going your way, you wish your family was there.”
When Tupou was in other cities to play football, it didn’t make sense to bring his family, because he never knew how long he would be working.
“I would go by myself, because you could have a job for three weeks and then not have a job the next week,” he said.
But, throughout his journey, he never reached a point where he thought his career was over.
“Actually, no,” he said. “Never. I know it’s kind of crazy to say, but I worked jobs, still trained. I’ve learned along the way, during this whole journey, to have fun and play football. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There was never a time when I was like, ‘Damn, it’s over.’ I just kept going.”
The toughest part of his professional football experience was getting cut by the Seahawks.
“When I got cut from Seattle, it was really hard to be here,” he said. “Being the hometown kid, being here, everybody knows. You go places and the question everybody asks is, ‘Yo, what are you doing now?’”
His response was always, “Keepin’ the dream alive.”
And now, in the XFL, Tupou’s dream is alive and well. He always believed another call was coming. His faith paid off. The hometown kid gets another chance to do what he loves.