RENTON — The saying is so common in the National Football League, most players don’t even have to say the second part of it.
“The more things you can do …” they say, without reminding the listener that it’s the preface to “… the better your chance of staying on the roster.”
Will Tukuafu has not only proven that adage, he’s taking it to extremes.
In an age of specialization, Tukuafu is a throwback for the Seahawks, a three-way player: Offense, defense and special teams.
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Having to prepare for his duties as fullback, tight end, defensive tackle, and kickoff return blocker, he spends his days bouncing between unit meetings and practice sessions.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Tukuafu has the rare blend of size and speed to play almost anywhere, but also the intelligence and work ethic it takes to learn the responsibilities of positions all over the field.
Tukuafu doesn’t see it as anything more than simply doing his job.
“Just a normal day of work for me,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve been doing stuff like this for a while. Football is football. You line up, play the game, and then go do it again.”
Softly spoken with gentle mannerisms, Tukuafu is underselling his effort.
Coach Pete Carroll, in contrast, points out how “extremely unique” Tukuafu is. “He’s playing tight end, fullback and defensive tackle, and he’s instrumental in our special teams. Not many guys can do that.”
Not many guys want to do that much.
Tukuafu quickly points to his parents when asked the roots of his willingness to work in various roles.
“They came from Tonga in the South Pacific; they were farmers,” Tukuafu said. “When they came to America in the late ’70s, they worked as janitors. They have very little education, and that’s all they could find as work. So that’s what we saw as kids, them cleaning up at churches, mowing some lawns.”
Dinner time at their crowded Salt Lake home often was a scramble for Ramen noodles and hot dogs, he said. And this may be where Tukuafu learned his quickness and competitiveness.
He has 10 brothers and five sisters. And of the 16 children, he’s the second-youngest. His brothers, he said, “are all about my size.”
Tukuafu took a two-year Latter-day Saints mission to Jamaica and played at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College before manning the defensive line at Oregon. The Seahawks signed him as a free agent in 2010 but waived him, clearing the way for his four-year stay with the San Francisco 49ers.
When fullback Derrick Coleman went out with a broken foot in the middle of last season, the Hawks brought back Tukuafu, who had been waived by the 49ers.
Tackle Garry Gilliam never knows where Tukuafu will show up. Sometimes he’s beside Gilliam at tight end, behind him as fullback, or across from him on the defensive line.
“That’s a Renaissance man, there,” Gilliam said. “He’s a good player who can help us at a lot of positions. It goes to show you, he’s a big man who is fast and smart, and can pick up things quickly.”
And from whichever position, Tukuafu is dangerous.
“He likes contact,” Gilliam said. “He goes head-hunting and he’ll knock you out if he gets the chance.”
Well that doesn’t sound like the man who, with his wife and kids, put together more than 100 gift bags to deliver to the Seattle homeless on Christmas Day last year.
Tukuafu is very humble about what he does on the field and in the community.
“I’m just grateful for what I have,” he said. “Not too many people are granted the opportunity I’ve got. Growing up, we never had much and we never expected much except to work hard and earn whatever we deserved.”
He has a word for what he does on a daily basis, the extra work, the extra study, the extra meetings — grinding.
Here’s what he means by that: “You show up for work every day and you make the most out of it. You do it with a good attitude and you can control what you can control with that attitude and your effort.”
And maybe even more than versatility, that’s how you stay on a roster.