When you aren’t heavily recruited, that feeling on your shoulder is more like a chip, pushing you to prove that you are just as good–or better.
For running back Jordan Tufaga, a preferred walk-on for CWU during his freshman year, this feeling is all too familiar.
Tufaga’s football journey began in the 2nd grade and he hasn’t missed a season since.
Unsure, but inspired by his father and brother who both played the game, Tufaga decided he’d give football a shot and it wasn’t long before his natural talent emerged.
“My second year playing there was an onside-kick that I picked up and scored,” Tufaga said. “that’s when my coach asked if I wanted to play running back and I said no.”
Eventually, Tufaga’s father, a person he attributes much of his success to, encouraged him to play the position.
“[My dad] said ‘just try it,’ so I did.”
Little did they know, that decision to play running back would ultimately give way to the opportunity to play college football.
Not very many scouts visit Alaska to recruit football players, but a football camp held by Tufaga’s high school coach also happened to be a camp that Ian Shoemaker, CWU football’s head Coach, has participated in for the last three summers.
“While I was up there I got a chance to meet Jordan and his father,” Shoemaker said. “Jordan was coming out at that time and it was a great opportunity for us to add a guy I thought was pretty athletic and did some good things.”
Although there was interest in Jordan’s abilities, his battle was far from over. Jordan would be offered an opportunity as a preferred walk-on and would have to earn his spot and scholarship.
“You can kind of tell who’s on scholarship and the guys who aren’t,” Tufaga said. “At first you feel like just a guy on the practice squad. I kind of felt out of place, but I knew I was good enough to be on the team.”
Along with fighting to see the field, Tufaga is also balancing school and—like many Polynesian athletes—getting used to life away from his main support system: his family.
“It’s hard not being able to actually see my family,” Tufaga said. “But I know this is what my dad would want me to do and my family is proud of me for doing this. It’s about representing the family.”
And that’s exactly what Tufaga did.
After his first year as a walk-on, the coaching staff at CWU decided during the offseason that he had earned himself a partial scholarship.
“He was named one of the top offensive scouts,” Shoemaker said. “It goes into academics, weight lifting and all the things that we ask our guys to do and he showed us that he’s able to do that.”
In a year’s time, Tufaga went from working for a spot to making impressive plays on game days.
With 429 all-purpose yards, a blocked punt against Azusa Pacific University and two touchdowns on the season, Tufaga is lucky his dad encouraged him to play running back at a young age.
As the accolades and stats continue to pile up for Tufaga, he acknowledges the journey and wants other Polynesian athletes to know that nothing comes easy.
“You need perseverance. Nothing comes easy,” Tufaga said. “You can be athletically gifted like many Polynesian kids are, but there’s books, community involvement and many other things. Many of you will have to leave your families, so just be prepared to push through it.”