Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Inside an All-Pro Mindset: Thank you Talanoa Hufanga

In need of my second cup of coffee, I walked into the faculty room and my eyes feasted on one of my favorite sites: a pink box. Donuts! Half of a blueberry cake donut caught my eye. Please and thank you.

It was so good that I leaned in for another (why not, I only had a half!). I would have picked up the the rainbow sprinkle varietal except the words of the San Francisco 49ers safety, Talanoa Hufanga were ringing in my ears. I want to give credit where credit is due. Thank you, #29.

"Huf" as he is known by his teammates, spoke to the football program at St. Ignatius College Prep on Thursday, May 2, 2023. His message has stayed with me and taken root. This post will share much more than the way his commitment to personal discipline has inspired me. I hope it will offer you a chance to consider many of the life lessons he has to share about building an all pro-mindset (which includes and a healthy diet!)

The all-pro safety grew up on a farm in Corvallis, Oregon. That upbringing indelibly shaped his work ethic, one that he is proud to describe and pass on to young people today.

He said, "I did yard work and I was a janitor. I was raised to have a servant mentality. That means you always keep a humble heart. You show up on time, and always show respect for your family." 

The head coach SI football, Lenny Vandermade—also a graduate of USC,  said "I have to admit, I was expecting you to show up on Poly time and you were actually five minutes early. That is not typical of Poly culture."

Hufanga responded "I am always reminding myself to keep that servant mentality. It is so important to me to show that as a sign of my respect for my family. They have given me everything: love, support and in the hard times or when things are uncomfortable—they have been there. I honor that by giving my best. And yes, an easy way to show that is to be respectful of other people's time." 

I looked around to see if the other teachers and coaches in the room were as ecstatic about this message as I was. 

Hufanga did not develop nor deepen this mindset in a vacuum. He credited another All-Pro safety— Troy Polamalu for serving as a mentor. A 2o21 inductee into the NFL Hall of Fame, Polamalu told him, "If you want to be great, you have to start with your character, first. Do the small things right. Do service. Feed the homeless. Say "hi" to someone you've never talked to in class."

It might be a sad reflection on our society, but even just a simple greeting, a "Good Morning" isn't something we can take for granted. I always notice those kids who offer a smile or a hello. And I remind the others "it costs nothing. Free-99." 

Hufanga added "an all pro-mindset can even be applied to how your handle your friendships. This is where our character is tested and revealed. My friendships mean a lot to me."

Undoubtedly, Huf has taken Polamalu's message to heart. But the athletes in the room admitted that one of his choices were not small —it was big. In high school, Hufanga gave up social media." One of my students said "it's impressive, but I don't think it's something I could ever do.: 

Huf addressed this reaction. "I didn't go cold turkey. I had took what I think were strategic steps to give it up. For example, I had to be on social media for recruiting purposes, but every night I gave my phone to my Dad at 9:00 p.m. That was big. Eventually, I  came to a point where I went for about three years without it. Now, I have someone handle my accounts and what I need to know. It's an important way for me to block out the noise."

Every single student athlete I asked about Hufanga's speech commented on this choice. I asked them "To what degree is developing the best version of yourself contingent on blocking out the noise?" It was a good conversation. 

We came to learn that Hufanga's choice to renounce something enticing did not stand in isolation. He said "I gave up drinking Monster and Red Bull and eventually soda. I came to find out that success in one area leveraged the likelihood of success in another."

I underlined and highlighted those words in my notebook. I realized his commitment to personal and self discipline is tremendous...but I wondered "Was it too much?" 
Yes, Hufanga has the "Mamba Mentality." He is proud to say he is "very competitive." But for the typical 15 year old sophomore in the room, were his words something that got them going or going home?

For me, I need all the reminders I can get. Hufanga was proud to talk about his Alkaline diet, commitment to hydration and adequate sleep. He believes these are the keys to maintaining the energy level he needs. Watch him on the field, and you'll see what I can only describe as high octane. 

He warms up for at least an hour before practice. He said "I do this by practicing other sports—like jujitsu, basketball or volleyball. This allows my body is get loose and get going." This is a good thing given that Hufanga gets extremely nervous and super serious during practice. He said "it's funny because you would think I would feel that way on game day. But I'm actually very calm when I have to compete."

Hufanga, a devout Christian said, "I do pray after every play, but my prayers have changed over time." He added, "I truly believe the prayers I offer have led to my success on the field. And yet, my goal is not to have the most interceptions, tackles and sacks.  My goal is not to be the best teammate I can be... to make my family proud in all that I do....and to honor God the Father." 

Such is the stuff of an all-pro mindset—lessons learned in the chapel at SI, applied in the faculty lounge, in the classroom, in our hearts and in our homes. Thank you Talanoa!

Photo Credits
Thank you David Arnott!
All Pro Action

1 comment:

  1. Great job Anne! Thank you for sharing.