USC Football

Should He Stay: Talanoa Hufanga

September 9, 2020

Josh An

Talanoa Hufanga, aka the Tongan Tiger, aka the tackling Trojan. Whatever you refer to him as, there’s no doubt that Hufanga has solidifed himself as one of the stars of the Trojan defense over his 2 year career. Overall, he has 141 tackles, including 11 for losses (with 3.5 sacks), plus 7 deflections and 2 forced fumbles in his career. 

Like a few of the other Trojans we’ve mentioned, this may have been Hufanga’s last season in Cardinal and Gold had COVID-19 not existed. I recently wrote about Hufanga and how many similarities he has with former Texas safety and current Miami Dolphin, Brandon Jones, who Craig Naivar coached in Austin.

Like Jones, Hufanga’s strengths are apparent. He’s a sure tackler, an instinctive playmaker, and someone who isn’t afraid of anything or anything. Unfortunately, his weaknesses might also scare off some NFL teams. For one, Hufanga’s 6-1, 215 pound frame without elite speed doesn’t completely support his “thumping” play style, and his injury history shows that. Over the last two seasons, he’s suffered two broken collarbones, a sprained right shoulder(which he had off-season surgery on) and a concussion. That’s a lot of injuries for someone who’s played just 18 games. 

Overall, Hufanga fits a bit in in the Tyler Vaughns category in terms of, “how much more can I show?” The answer for that could be more fluidity in coverage or the ability to stay healthy for an entire season, but those are no guarantees. The Corvallis product has mentioned that he wants to wait before making a decision and there’s no doubt a difficult one lies ahead for him.

Marc Kulkin

If you’re Talanoa Hufanga what would you do if you had to choose, today, between going pro or playing a spring football season?   As of right now, the 2020 PAC-12 season is scheduled to possibly begin in December or January, and the NFL draft is scheduled to commence in April, and you’re considered an NFL prospect with big upside.    A few weeks ago my thoughts on Hufanga, were as follows:

Talanoa is probably ready to compete in the spring, however, why not just take the extra time and make sure the shoulder is 100% ready to go.   Playing this spring in my opinion is just too risky, and the gamble to enetr the NFL draft is just that...a crap shoot.   Hufanga’s talent is unquestionable, however, the NFL wants to see a full season of film so waiting till the fall puts Hufanga in the best position to impress.

The context then being the PAC12 playing two schedules in one calendar’s a no-brainer, use the extra time to rest the body and come back in the fall.  Now there’s new speculation and optimism the Trojans will be on the field much sooner than spring, so the calculus has changed a little.

Ther’e really only one “big” concern with, Hufanga, and the concern is his durability.  Playing the game of football as a rule, you’re constantly trowing caution at the wind.  Football a physical game and the most physical person usually wins, however, they’re also the one who suffer injuries and this is a concern; In two years of playing eligibilty, Hufanga, has been banged up.  Most notably, Hufanga’s shoulders.

Hufanga is not just a physically intimidating strong safety in the mold of Trojan Hall of Famer, Troy Polamalu, he’s also incredibly smart who sees things develop quickly and puts himself in the right position to make the play.  Can Hufanga stay “healthy” for a whole season though?

If USC and the PAC12 can get their seasons started in October or early November, I would encourage Talanoa to PLAY in the fall and then prepare for the NFL draft.    

So what changed my opinion?

I never believed for a second that the PAC12 would allow two competitive seasons of full contact football in the same calendar year.   Nor would I ask, Hufanga, to take a whole year off with no contact, and then wait till 2021 to play in the fall.   By playing in the fall of 2020, I believe it makes, Hufanga’s difficult decsion to enter the 2021 NFL draft a lot easier.

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