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A Farmer's Tale

Sep 14, 2019

By Katie Ryan, Assistant Sports Information Director 
 

Fiji sat and waited for his leash. His owner, Talanoa Hufanga, was going to take him on a walk. This might seem like a normal day for a household pet, except for the fact that Fiji was a goat.

"My goat was probably my favorite animal we had," said Hufanga. "He was always friendly and wanted to be around me."

Fiji was one of the many animals that lived on Hufanga's family farm in Corvallis, Ore.

"I grew up with cows, chickens, pigs, goats, dogs and cats," he said. "We had a barn, a garden and a pasture where we did a lot of crazy things like driving dirt bikes and tractors and chasing after cows. When the cows would get out of the pen, Fiji would always help lead them back home. The cows always followed the goat."

In Tongan, the name Talanoa means, "to tell a story." From growing up on a small farm in rural Corvallis to playing under the bright lights of the Coliseum, USC sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga has a special story to tell.

Growing up, Hufanga had a full house with his mom, dad, brother and grandparents all living on the farm.

"Growing up on a farm, it's a different kind of childhood; I didn't have neighborhood friends to hang out with," he said. "On the weekends it was mandatory that my brother and I were working. We weeded, cleaned the barn, fed the animals, took eggs out of the chicken coop and maintained the pig pens."

Having so many responsibilities as a child to help maintain the family farm taught Hufanga diligence.

"It definitely instilled a work ethic in me," said Hufanga. "Whether it's yard work, school or football, the more you work at it, the more you'll see it come together."

With the free time he had, Hufanga immersed himself in sports.

"I played football, basketball and ran track," he said. "I was really dedicated to each sport. A lot of people wondered why I didn't play 7-on- 7 football, but I was always busy because my dad wouldn't let me be distracted from whatever sport I had made a commitment to."

While many children choose to specialize in one sport, Hufanga feels that playing multiple sports helped him develop into a well-rounded athlete. "I think playing multiple sports really helps make you a better player," he said. "I still use elements of basketball and track when I'm playing football. It also prevents you from getting burned out on a sport at ayoung age."

Although he was a multiple-sport athlete, Hufanga put an emphasis on football. He played on both sides of the ball as a safety and wide receiver at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis.

Hufanga disproved the theory that you need to play at a national high school football powerhouse to make noise in the recruiting world. Crescent Valley was not one of the top high school football programs in the country or even in the state of Oregon. Hufanga's hard work and on- field performance earned him many national recognitions. He was also the first football player from Crescent Valley to be invited to play in the Army All-American game.

"Being the first person from my high school was a major honor and such a blessing," said Hufanga.

When it came time to choose a college, Hufanga was very methodical and didn't want to make an emotional decision.

"My pops and I made a chart to stay organized with a pros and cons list vof what I wanted out of a school," he said. "The chart had the names of each school across the top, and a list of the things I wanted down the side. After I'd visit a school, I'd go home and check off boxes.

"For me, the education I'd be receiving was the most important thing because at the end of the day, football is going to end and you'll need a degree. The only school that checked all my boxes was USC. That made my decision a lot easier," he said with a smile.

Hufanga graduated a semester early from high school and enrolled at USC in the spring of 2018. During his freshman season, he saw action in eight games and started in five. He made 51 tackles with 3.5 for losses of seven yards and four deflections. He season was cut short by a broken right collarbone suffered against Arizona State, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.

After returning for spring ball, Hufanga re-broke his right collarbone and missed the second half of spring practice.

"Going through those injuries has taught me patience," he said. "The first time wasn't as bad because you know, injuries happen. But when the same injury happens twice, it was really tough on me mentally. Bouncing back was definitely a process. It was good though because I grow from those moments. I strive to be mentally strong in everything I do, and it's a priority of mine. Having those injuries made me a stronger person."

Three games into his second season, Hufanga has tallied 18 tackles with one for a loss of three yards. While focusing on being a leader on the defense, he brings the same dedication and work ethic to the defensive backs meeting room as he did while working on the farm.

"I try to lead by example and always do what the coaches ask of me. Whatever task I'm given, I will be on top of it. I want to be known as a consistent player. I will be early and I will be ready to do my job."

Hufanga's story shows that hard work doesn't go unrewarded. The best part is, it's not over yet...the story is still being written.