Just a couple of years ago, D.J. Tialavea was working two jobs and sleeping on the floor of a friend’s house.
Now he’s a tight end for the Atlanta Falcons, who will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
You could say this Eagle Scout — one of at least 16 Eagles with Super Bowl ties — has come a long way.
A long way since working a pair of $10-an-hour jobs, one involving supervising teenagers at a youth detention center. (At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, he was uniquely qualified.)
A long way since his dad died in 2013 after a long battle with heart disease.
A long way since he earned Scouting’s highest honor in 2009 as a member of Crew 9018 in the Great Salt Lake Council.
Patience makes perfect
Tialavea’s journey to the NFL required patience. He was undrafted out of college (Utah State). Despite working 15 hours a day, he found time to train to stay in football shape. He wanted to be prepared if the call ever came, according to this ESPN story.
He was signed and released by Jacksonville. Then Buffalo signed and cut him in the span of a month.
Finally, Atlanta made a call. He was signed to their practice squad — a kind of limbo in the pro football world — until he was promoted to the active roster in December 2016.
So far, he has made only one catch in his NFL career, but he made it count. Tialavea’s 1-yard touchdown grab helped the Falcons clinch a division title.
When he made the catch, he pointed to four chairs high up in the nosebleeds. His mom and two sisters were there, sitting next to a seat that was left empty for Tialavea’s late father.
The family had taken a last-minute flight to see Tialavea’s big game, and the big man didn’t disappoint.
A super Sunday either way
Tialavea likely won’t take the field in Super Bowl LI. He’s on the Falcons’ 53-man roster, but he has been on the inactive list for the team’s two playoff games.
Even if he watches this game from the sidelines, he’ll be patiently waiting for his chance to shine. We hope that’s some time next season.
In the meantime, he’ll do what he can to help his team by keeping himself physically strong and mentally awake.
Because Tialavea will never forget one piece of advice from his father: “You be ready when they call your number.”