Jim Harbaugh set out this offseason to create three-way roles for versatile players on the San Francisco 49ers roster.
Many auditioned to play on offense, defense and special teams, but only defensive tackle Will Tukuafu made a lasting transition.
The 6-foot-4, 293-pound defensive lineman handles multiple roles as a lead-blocking fullback and a kick-off team wedge blocker on special teams.
“He’s carved out a real niche for himself on this ball club,” Harbaugh, the 49ers coach, said on Monday. “A physical presence, both offensively and defensively and special teams. He is a guy that we know we can count on. He’s a count on me guy.”
San Francisco has often called on the undrafted second-year player to line up at fullback in the team’s short-yardage and goal-line formations. Tukuafu hasn’t touched the ball this season (he was interfered with on a goal line route against the New York Jets), but has helped pave the way for many of the teams eight rushing touchdowns on the year.
“To be filling as many roles as he is, it’s really impressive,” Harbaugh added. “I think first and foremost, the physical presence that he brings. He’s big and strong and athletic. Big man that’s very physical. He’s a big man who’s fast. It’s been positive for us.”
In the same way Tukuafu has been there to support the team’s 4-1 start, teammates, coaches and staff members have come to the defensive lineman’s aid in recent weeks.
Krystal Tukuafu, Will’s wife, recently learned of a tragic circumstance involving her cousin’s newborn son, Tony.
Born in Arizona, young Tony required open-heart surgery when his parents discovered the newborn having a hard time breathing after his birth.
Tony’s resting comfortably now that the surgery went well, but there are still medical bills to be handled. That’s where Tukuafu has stepped up, not just by himself, but with the support of many 49ers.
Tukuafu estimates more than a third of the team has donated money to help Tony’s family pay for the surgery.
Nose tackle and close friend Isaac Sopoaga was first to approach Tukuafu about the situation and was soon followed by a host of 49ers players.
The monetary gestures meant the world to Tukuafu.
“Guys care about each other,” the defensive lineman said. “It’s not just about what we’re doing in football; there are a lot of things happening outside of football that these guys care about. I wanted to recognize that.”
In the meantime, the big-hearted Tukuafus have put together gift baskets for Will to share with his teammates as a way of showing the family’s gratitude.
“It goes to show guys in the locker room really care for each other,” Tukuafu stressed. “It’s an opportunity to do some service. I think the guys know how much I appreciate them; the guys in this locker room are all great guys.
“It’s not easy, you can only imagine how many people go up to the guys looking for something, but all these guys supported the cause and it means a lot. I appreciate them all, the whole organization, it says a lot about the locker room we have here.”
Tags: Isaac Sopoaga, Jim Harbaugh, Will Tukuafu
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