'I was that little kid': Jay Tufele showing up in community, making strides on field

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Second-year defensive lineman Jay Tufele is showing up in a big way for the Jacksonville Jaguars. While bouncing back from a broken hand, Tufele has become one of the most visible players in the community.

In May, the Jaguars Foundation announced its inaugural All-Prep girls’ flag football team. To reward the student-athletes, the team gave each of the 14 players a $200 Academy Sports and Outdoors gift card.

Tufele was one of two Jaguars to be at the celebration honoring the players.

“To be honest it was a once in a lifetime experience for me,” Tufele said. “It was the first ever girls flag football team for Jacksonville. It was just an honor to be a part of that and to show these young trailblazers that what they’re doing is one of a kind. Just encouraging them and that they can take it to a whole other level. It’s very exciting and I was very grateful to be a part of that.”

A few weeks before that event, Tufele was a part of the First Coast Sports Injury Symposium that was held for high school students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare.

And in June he was one of the players that was a part of the Special Olympics Fantasy Camp, which allowed youth to sign one-day contracts with the team and practice at TIAA Bank Field.

“If I get the chance to be out there and be a part of the community and show my face out there, it means everything to me,” Tufele said. “I was that little kid at one point that always wanted to see an NFL player or a superstar. I would love to see them and talk to them and show love to the community. Whenever I get the chance, I love to do it.”

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Jay Tufele (97) talks with associate strength coach Kevin Maxen during the Jaguars rookie minicamp session at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL Tuesday, June 14, 2022.
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Jay Tufele (97) talks with associate strength coach Kevin Maxen during the Jaguars rookie minicamp session at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

Tufele’s emergence in the community is coming a few months after the NFL lifted COVID-19 policies that restricted players from gathering in large settings. He’s been one of several players to jump two feet into the community since the rule change.

Another thing that Tufele has embraced is his heritage as seen in a feature video released across the social channels of the Jaguars. Tufele spoke about his culture and background in the video and talked about the pride that he carries with him.

“Everywhere I go, I take my culture with me,” he said in the video. “My name is Jaylen Pea Tufele. I’m a defensive lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars and I am proud to be Samoan.”

The video shows Tufele talking about his early life, his values and how he idolized Troy Polamalu growing up.

It’s a side of a player that isn’t always shown when they’re on the field.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Jay Tufele (97) listens to instructions as he goes through drills with his fellow defensive linemen during the Jaguars rookie minicamp session at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Jay Tufele (97) listens to instructions as he goes through drills with his fellow defensive linemen during the Jaguars rookie minicamp session at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

As Tufele goes into his second season in the NFL, he’s coming off a year where he only appeared in four games and registered two tackles.

Compared to his career at USC where Tufele had 65 tackles, seven sacks, one pass deflection, a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a blocked field goal, it’s a stark dropoff in production.

But he’s getting back to the basics with defense line coach Brentson Buckner to improve his skills.

“We have amazing coaches; especially I love coach Buck,” Tufele said. “He’s all about technique and making sure we’re able to play fast. He’s a really awesome coach and with our defensive coordinator [Mike] Caldwell and everyone coming in they’re just great coaches. They’re just trying to bring the best out of us so I’m very excited.”

He broke his hand, had surgery on it and went through a recovery process that saw him work closely with the training staff of the Jaguars. He’s recovered from the injury and is looking to make a splash in a what’s seen as a solid Jacksonville front-seven.

“For me, it’s just alignment, assignment and just play hard,” Tufele said on what his goals were. “Those are the main things that I’m focusing on going into this season. It’s a whole new playbook, but once I get those things down, I can play fast. I’m just really excited to hit the ground running. Very excited.”

Juston Lewis is a sports reporter for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustonLewis_.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jaguars defensive lineman Jay Tufele active in Jacksonville community