It is not hard to spot Tani Tupou at Seattle Dragons practices. He is the player who looks the happiest, dancing around and generally having fun.
And why not? The thoughtful and soft-spoken defensive tackle is playing the game he loves, and he was drafted by his hometown team.
“I got to stay home, be local and stay with the family,” said the 6-foot-1, 280-pound Tupou, who played at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett before playing at the University of Washington and briefly with the Seahawks. “A bunch of us on this team got cut from NFL teams and we never knew when our next opportunity would be to play football. So now we get to play at a high level again, and it’s a great opportunity and it’s fun.”
Tupou spent five seasons at Washington and was named one of six team captains as a senior in 2015, when he had 37 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. He roomed for one year with running back Lavon Coleman, now a teammate on the Dragons.
Tupou was undrafted after college, but signed with the Seahawks and made the opening-day roster as the starting fullback. He was waived after that game, then spent time with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017.
Tupou was among the Arizona Cardinals’ final cuts in 2018, then played this year with the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football before that league dissolved in April.
Tupou started working in construction and security but came to a summer showcase in Seattle for prospective XFL players because of his love of the game.
“The ultimate goal is to get back on an NFL team, and I am sure that is the same for everybody here, but at the end of the day, it’s just this league in itself and just to play football again,” said Tupou, who said the talent level in the XFL is better than it was in the AAF. “Just being out here, the music, guys from all over the place. It’s falling in love with the game all over again.
“I’d much rather be out here (than doing construction and security work) and running to the ball, even if the ball is 30 yards down the field.”
Tupou got his wish when Seattle drafted him, in the seventh round of the lineman phase. That he was able to stay home became even more important when his mother-in-law and father-in-law recently passed away during a two-week stretch.
The team allowed Tupou to return home after practices instead of staying with the rest of the team in a hotel. That meant a lot to Tupou.
Tupou, who grew up in Marysville, is one of four former Huskies on the Dragons, joining Coleman, Kasen Williams and Shane Bowman. Tupou said he was “caught off guard” when UW coach Chris Petersen announced his departure earlier this month.
“But he knows what is best for himself and the program,” Tupou said. “I texted Coach Pete the day I heard it, and I told him, ‘No matter what, I love you and best of luck in your next thing,’ and he texted back, ‘Thank you.’ I am excited for whatever his future holds.”
Tupou is also excited about what Jimmy Lake will do as UW’s new head coach. Tupou told a story of playing in the UW football team’s Olympics, and how Lake was the coach of his group.
“He is really, really good at golf and we had this little putt-putt tourney thing where we had to hit balls on this mat, and he hit all the balls on the mat,” Tupou said. “And he took time to try to teach us how to swing. He’s an all-around good dude.”