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'Next man up' mantra opened door for East High's Will Tukuafu to reach 2nd Super Bowl

PHOENIX — The phrase "next man up" is synonymous in football with giving an athlete the chance to step up and contribute when another player goes down with an injury.

In the case of Seattle's Will Tukuafu and Tony Moeaki, this season the "next man up" also meant the "next man signed."

Tukuafu, who prepped at East High, joined the Seahawks in late October after the team's starting fullback, Derrick Coleman, broke his foot. Moeaki, whose Utah ties include the fact he's LDS and his brother-in-law is Harvey Unga, was added when tight end Zach Miller injured his ankle and ended up on injured reserve.

The duo now add depth and experience on a Seattle team hoping to repeat as champions when the Seahawks face New England in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday.

Both players reached injury settlements with their previous teams — Tukuafu with the 49ers and Moeaki the Bills — and joined the team as free agents.

Tukuafu, who's mainly been a fullback with Seattle but has also played on the defensive line in his five-year NFL career, is making his second Super Bowl appearance. He played for San Francisco two years ago when the 49ers lost to Baltimore 34-31.

"Not too many people get the chance to be here twice, and I'm excited," Tukuafu said, while also acknowledging he represents those who helped him growing up in Salt Lake City. "I'm not only here for myself, but I'm here for thousands of other people that have helped me be here. I can't go out there and not give it my all.

"I have so much to be grateful for, so I've got to go out there and give it my best."

For Tukuafu, the acclimation process in Seattle had to happen quickly. Until he was fully up to speed, the Seahawks used former Utah State running back Robert Turbin as a fill-in fullback.

"That transition had to happen fast, but these guys have been awesome in making that transition smooth," Tukuafu said of his teammates and coaches in Seattle.

"I can't even put into words how good he's been," Turbin said of his backfield mate, Tukuafu. "He struggled a bit at first, obviously because it's a new offense and he had to learn. But he's a smart player, which makes him so good. Once he was able to get it down, he's been a huge addition to our team."

The tight end Moeaki, a five-year NFL veteran, has been on the opposite end of the opportunity that opened a spot for him in Seattle. While he excelled in 2010 and 2012 with Kansas City, catching 80 passes for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns, injuries have derailed more than one season for him in the pros.

Those experiences help him appreciate what lies ahead this weekend.

"This is a real blessing to be a part of this team," said Moeaki, indicating Unga, the former BYU running back, will be coming down for the game. "It's my first Super Bowl — a lot of guys play for a long time and don't get to be a part of a Super Bowl — and I'm definitely thankful for that."

Moeaki joined the team Nov. 4. He said he was rehabbing his hamstring when the call came from the Seahawks. After he got cleared, Moeaki worked out for the team and signed the next day, then played the next week against Kansas City.

“That’s kind of how it works,” said Moeaki, who has eight catches for 134 yards and a touchdown this year for Seattle. He also started twice.

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