Local football player Jahlani Tavai was selected by the Detroit Lions on the second day of the NFL Draft with the 11th pick and 43rd overall last Friday.
Tavai, a 2014 graduate of Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, is one of the highest South Bay players selected in any of the four major sports. Michael Okwo of Mira Costa was drafted in the third round with the 94th pick by the Chicago Bears in the 2007 NFL Draft after finishing at Stanford.
Both Tavai and Okwo are linebackers who left their mark at Mira Costa. Tavai played for the University of Hawaii and was recruited by Norm Chow.
Tavai was at home when he received the phone call from the Lions’ General Manager Bob Quinn. He was the eighth pick in the second round and the Lion's second pick.
Before the draft, Tavai said his agent predicted he'd be picked up on either day two or day three.
"I was just waiting for a phone call within those rounds," said Tavai. "Like I said, I’m just really happy and really thankful for the opportunity that coach (Matt) Patricia and the Lions’ staff gave me right now. (I’m) really excited.”
Asked if he was surprised to go that high in the draft, Tavai said he felt blessed, thankful ... and speechless.
The Lions' Quinn explained he choose Tavai for his versatility.
“(He can) play the run, can rush, can blitz, can cover," said Quinn. "When we started scouting him during the season—actually going back to last spring—very unique with his body type, his playing strength, his ability to rush, cover, play the run, throw special teams in there as well. So there’s that.
“Just because he plays in Hawaii—he’s probably off the radar a tiny bit, but not for our scouts.”
Quinn said he needed to draft Tavai where he did as there was a lot of interest in him.
“I think we kind of held on there for about four or five picks, not knowing if he was going be there. Felt good about that – had a really good visit with him. He came in about two, three weeks ago, had a thorough visit with him here.”
Tavai was limited in working out for scouts until late in the pre-draft process due to an shoulder injury that cut his season short, but he is ready to go now.
During the draft, he was with his family when he got the call.
“I just want them to be here because they’ve been in my corner since day one, and I want to just show the love toward them. If it wasn’t for them, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be in this situation where I am right now. I’m just going to spend time with the family.”
Johah Tavai, who will play football for San Diego State in the fall, said he was happy for his older brother.
“He deserves all the credit that is due,” said Jonah Tavai. “I know he is going to keep doing his thing.”
Jahlani said he wanted Detroit Lions fans to know he'd play every down.
“I’m going to hustle to the ball and just show that I’m giving 110 percent effort every play," said Jahlani.
Former coaches know that hustle well.
Duke Dulgarian, Mira Costa's boys' rugby coach, said Jahlani is a natural leader.
"His teammates feed off of the passion he brings to the game," said Dulgarian. "With his athleticism and intelligence, I have no doubt he’ll be successful in the NFL.”
Former Mira Costa teammate Brandon Mills called Tavai his "trench buddy."
“Jahlani is one of the most talented and humble athletes I’ve ever played with. Any sport he picks up I’m confident he can excel at. He played four sports in high school and was a star athlete in all of them. He’s the embodiment of the multifaceted diverse athlete.”
Tavai, also played rugby at Mira Costa and excelled at that sport as well.
“I have never played with a better leader than Jahlani Tavai, not just in a physical sense because he was always bigger, stronger and faster than everyone else on the field but also because he was an incredibly mature player," said high school rugby teammate Harrison Dulgarian.
Tavai, who was on Mira Costa’s first state championship rugby team that went 11-0 hopes to bring some of that success to the gridiron and the Detroit Lions.