COSTA MESA, Calif. — Tuli Tuipulotu was surrounded by his family playing cards and eating in the front of his house as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL legends walked up to announce draft selections.
His mom was yelling for him to go into the house and watch the draft, but he wasn’t really feeling it– until he got the call.
“I didn’t really care what round I went because I just knew that wherever I went, I would have to prove myself no matter what, whether it was the first, second or third [round], I would have to prove myself,” Tuipulotu said.
Tuipulotu had two productive seasons to start his USC Trojan career, but in his third, he erupted. He went from 5.5 sacks to 13.5, which was the most in college football, along with 7.5 tackles for loss to 22 this last year.
“I would say that my coach, [Southern California Defensive Line Coach] Shaun Nua, prepared me very well throughout that season. There was a big jump from my sophomore year to my junior year, and a big reason for that was because of Coach Nua,” Tuipulotu said.
He also felt like the defense deserved some credit for his production even though many experts thought USC didn’t have that strong of a unit.
It was evident last season that the Chargers needed pass-rushing help. They traded for Khalil Mack last offseason to pair him up with Joey Bosa. Bosa went down in week three against Jacksonville and didn’t return until week 17 against the Rams.
Mack made several plays, but the defense missed Bosa’s pass-rushing abilities. They had Kyle Van Noy, Chris Rumph, and others try to pick up the slack. Van Noy played much better in the last six games of the season (including playoffs) and had a sack in each game.
“Man, Joey Bosa and Khalil? That’s crazy,” Tuipulotu said. “I’m excited for the opportunity. I am a sponge. I am going to absorb all the info they give me and just try to get better and just make an impact on the team.”
The USC product wants to be a sponge, similar to first-round draft pick Quentin Johnston. He wants to learn from Mack and Bosa. In the past, Bosa has always been open to teaching young players, especially during training camp. He will pull guys off to the side and show them some pass-rushing moves.
One of the negatives on Tuipulotu was that he might have difficulty setting the edge, but he has two players in Mack and Bosa, who excel at helping in the run game.
“I wouldn’t say anything too crazy,” Tuipulotu said about his pass-rushing skills. “I really like to set up my moves. I try to make everything look exactly the same. I work everything off of power. I have to add more to arsenal, learn more.”
An interesting note is Tuipulotu thought his get off on the snap was slow, so he decided to improve that by watching San Francisco 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa, brother of Joey. He feels like his get-off has improved.
He now begins his journey to the NFL as he prepares to make an impact for a team that will need his services this season, especially in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
“A true team player,” Tuipulotu said about what the Chargers defense is adding by drafting him. “I’ll do anything for his team, whatever they need me to do, as long as I get to contribute to the team, whether that’s being on special teams, coming off of the bench, and just helping out.”