RENTON — All his life, Jay-Tee Tiuli watched his favorite Seahawks, such as Lofa Tatupu, wear the blue and green from the screen of his parents’ TV at their house in Federal Way.
Tiuli watched Seahawks fans crowd CenturyLink Field, only to ever hear their roars from speakers. Despite never attending a game, he had dreams of one day stepping onto that field and wearing his name on the back of those jerseys.
After years of watching the Seahawks from the comforts of his family’s living room and bettering his own talent through high school and college, Tiuli will finally make his dream a reality when he joins the Seahawks in hosting the Denver Broncos in a preseason matchup Thursday for the first appearance of his NFL career.
“It’s honestly a blessing,” Tiuli, a 6-foot-3 defensive tackle, said. “I stayed home my whole life, and I’m just ready to get the opportunity to stay home and be just 40 minutes from my parents’ house. It’s just all surreal to me.”
The Tiulis have always been Seahawks fans. The obsession started with his parents’ upbringings while they grew up in Seattle, then later they instilled that in their children.
“My family is the biggest ’12’ out there,” he said, referring to a term for Seahawks fans. “Just coming here, seeing the different side of it, I love it.”
So, when the 340-pound defensive tackle got a call in May from defensive-line coach Clint Hurtt informing him of the Seahawks’ decision to sign him, there was no other feeling than excitement.
A rookie undrafted free-agent signing, Tiuli is one step closer to making his childhood dream of playing in the NFL a reality.
“When you go through the process, you want anybody to pick you up, but when the Seahawks gave me that call, I was just excited and I was ready,” Tiuli said. “I was just happy it happened and I couldn’t ask to be on a better team.”
Tiuli played nose tackle for Eastern Washington. As a senior, he was named the Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP and named to the All-Big Sky first team and the Associated Press NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America team. Tiuli totaled 115 total tackles with 12½ sacks, 19 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Before graduating in 2014, Tiuli helped Federal Way High School to a 10-3 record and a semifinal appearance in the Washington state Class 4A playoffs his senior season.
In his first training camp, Tiuli is learning how to adjust to the professional level, using the strength skills of players around him as motivation to better himself. As he continues to work toward what he hopes is a spot on the Seahawks’ 53-man roster, Tiuli has looked up to the veteran players in his position group, especially Poona Ford, who was in Tiuli’s shoes a year ago as an undrafted free agent himself.
“It’s really cool to see how he [Ford] went from undrafted to starter and then going into this season looking to start, too,” he said.
Tiuli is likely to get sufficient playing time in Thursday’s game in hopes of impressing coaches for a roster spot in the defensive-tackle group, which also includes two other rookies in Bryan Mone and Demarcus Christmas (who remains on the physically unable to perform list).