Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Talanoa Hufanga eager for first NFL start, hopes to help fix 49ers’ turnover problems

Oct 29, 2021 at 4:39 PM--

Safety Talanoa Hufanga is a likable player. You can tell he has a love for the game and an eagerness to prove himself in the NFL. He'll get a chance on Sunday when the struggling San Francisco 49ers visit the Chicago Bears.

Hufanga will get his first NFL start with Jaquiski Tartt expected to miss "a few weeks" due to a bone bruise in his knee. While Hufanga probably wishes the opportunity had come under better circumstances, you could see his excitement on Friday as he spoke with reporters for the first time since August.

"Oh man, it's been a blessing," Hufanga said. "It's been a long time coming. All glory to God, first off. It's a unique experience. I've been here, just trying to enjoy this process, enjoy this role, whether I'm on the field, I'm off the field."

Hufanga has the support of his teammates, who have helped the fifth-round draft pick in his transition from college to the pros.

"I've had Tartt, Tavon [Wilson], Jimmie Ward, these guys that are really trying to take me under their wing and continue to help me grow," Hufanga shared. "And so, I'm just excited to go out there and have fun. I think that's the most important thing. If you can do that — we've been playing football our whole lives — if we can do that, we can just enjoy it as much as we can."

Does Hufanga feel he has grown since arriving in Santa Clara for the first time?

Oh definitely," Hufanga responded. "I think you grow each and every week. I think that's part of the game. You can never stop learning, even if you're a vet, and I've learned that as I've gotten here.

"My locker-mate, Mohamed Sanu, he even tries to take me under his wing. He teaches me the offensive side of the game and tells me how to take care of my body and continue to communicate when I'm on the field. And communication just continues to help everybody. So, when we can do that, great things can happen."

Hufanga hauled in four interceptions for the USC Trojans last year. That's three more than the 49ers have as a team this season. Can the rookie safety help his new squad with its takeaway issues?

"You know, that's a funny thing that happened is I found myself, in college, the first couple years, not creating a lot of turnovers," Hufanga said. "You kind of think in your head, 'I want the interception, I want the turnover,' but my Junior year is when I started to just let things happen.

"You never want to wish for something because then you're probably going to get scored on. So when you let things come to you and play the game naturally and be very instinctive, things start to [happen]. Hopefully, we can create lots of turnovers because, obviously, we hadn't created a bunch. But hopefully, they come in bunches, as we like to say. But first and foremost, we've got to stop the run and then create turnovers."

You would think there would be some anxiety about starting your first NFL game as a rookie. That didn't show today, as Hufanga looked calm and collected, entering Sunday's matchup with a good attitude.

Said Hufanga: "That's my goal for this game, just to go out there and have fun, and create an energy and an atmosphere for everybody, just to make sure we're all on the same page."

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