JACKSONVILLE – Jay Tufele's in the NFL for many reasons.
His last college position coach, Chad Kauha'aha'a, detailed a slew of them recently – with the biggest reason being clear:
He wants to be really, really good – and he's willing to work to be so.
"He's the ultimate competitor," Kauha'aha'a told jaguars.com this week.
Tufele, a defensive tackle who played collegiately at Southern California, was the No. 106 overall selection by the Jaguars in the 2021 NFL Draft. Opting out of this past season because of COVID-19, he last played in 2019 – which was Kauha'aha'a's final season as the Trojans' defensive line coach.
"This guy always rises to the occasion," Kauha'aha'a, now defensive line coach at Nevada-Las Vegas, said. "He's got all the tools. When it comes to overall mental toughness, physical toughness, this is a guy who imposes his will on dudes.
"He plays with violence. When it comes to striking, coming off blocks, this dude is absolutely violent."
Tufele, after redshirting as a freshman in 2017, played two seasons at Southern California. He started 18 of 25 games, being named the program's Defensive Lineman of the Year in both seasons – and being named All-Pac 12 second team as a freshman and first team as a sophomore.
"You had to double team Jay, or you had to triple team Jay," Kauha'aha'a said. "If not, he'd make you pay. Just how quick-twitch he is and how explosive he is closing in on the ball was pretty danged amazing. His size and speed surprises people.
"You're like, 'Holy Cow, this guy just did that.' And it wasn't just one play. It was all the time."
Tufele – a consensus five-star recruit out of Bingham (Utah) South Jordan High School – finished his college career with 65 tackles, including 11 for losses of 47 yards (with 7.5 sacks for minus 39 yards). He also had a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a blocked field goal.
He started all 13 games in 2019, registering 41 tackles – including 6.5 for losses of 28 yards. He had for sacks for 22 yards of losses that season.
Tufele played the 2019 season with a hand injury after a sustaining a deep cut in his right index finger in the season opener, a cut that he said required stitches during the game.
"He never missed a practice," Kauha'aha'a said. "He played with a smashed up hand. Instead of resting it, he wanted to get it taped up and go through practice. It took a lot for me to take him out of reps. When we held Jay back, if he got banged up or if I said, 'I have to take it easy on him' … he didn't want that. He wanted to be treated the same way.
"He's a coachable player. He takes criticism as a tool to help himself get better. He never thought, 'I'm Jay Tufele. I'm at USC.' Not even close. You can coach Jay super hard and he'll respond."
Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer recruited Tufele when Meyer was at Ohio State, and Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said after the draft that Tufele absolutely "has the type of mindset we're looking for."
"He's a plus-two guy all the way, great effort player," Baalke said, referring to Meyer's approach of wanting players who do 12 reps when they are asked to do 10. "[He's a] quality guy and quality football player."
Agreed Kauha'aha'a, "His relentlessness on the practice field is pretty amazing. That work ethic part is a reason why he's a special dude. His attitude is outstanding. He's always positive. He's a confident dude, but in a humble way. He's a no-excuse guy."
Kauha'aha'a, who coached nose tackle Star Lotulelei – a first-round selection by Carolina in the 2013 NFL Draft – at Utah, called Tufele "one of the best guys to coach in my career" and "just a respectable young man."
"He let his actions speak," Kauha'aha'a said. "He's not a vocal person, but his actions spoke. He took a lot of pride in being a tough, physical guy in a position that's demanding. Jay will know his role. He was the type of guy people would follow because of his playing ability or what he did.
"He will get emotional every once in a while. He's not a rah-rah guy. He's a guy people follow because during practice the guy doesn't take plays off.
Tufele had been projected as a first-round selection at times in college, and many mock drafts had him in the second round leading to the draft. Kauha'aha'a said while opting out of the 2020 season may have hurt Tufele's draft status, he said he expects that to help moving forward.
"Jay will come in with a chip on his shoulder and try to prove people wrong," Kauha'aha'a said. "I don't see his work ethic slowing down."