During his career at Utah, defensive lineman Mika Tafua was not only productive — he finished the 2021 season ranked second among active Pac-12 defensive linemen in career tackles for loss with 32 — but he also was an impressive leader that brought out the best in his teammates. 

“Mika is the embodiment of Utah defense. Everyone could agree on that. There’s no question. That’s a big thing to say, knowing what Utah defense is,” said defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi. “Our culture is ‘RSNB’ — relentless, smart, nasty ballhawks. Mika, every snap, every practice, has that with him. I love being here with him. I’ve known him since high school. He’s been that solid foundation, a true anchor in the Utah defense and the Utah tradition.” 

Utah defensive end coach Lewis Powell also praised Tafua’s work ethic and leadership skills.

“He is awesome. He’s a hard worker; he’s a great leader. He’s one of the best leaders we’ve had here in a while. He doesn’t only show it on the field,” Powell said. “Off the field, he’s a good leader. He doesn’t only care about what he’s doing, he wants to get others to go along with him.”

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Last season, the Utes leaned on leaders like Tafua to get them through the tragic deaths of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe.

“Those are our brothers, for real. We had a lot of motivation going into the season, but losing Aaron in the middle of the season, that was tough, especially someone that was around us and really close to Ty,” Tafua said. “For something tragic like that to happen, it definitely motivated everyone. Like we say, 22% better every day. This was for them.

“This really was for Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan, so that we could etch their names in history. If we hadn’t won (the Pac-12 championship), it would have been a cool story, but now when they look at the 2021 Pac-12 champions, they’ll always remember 22, and Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan.”

Tafua, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound native of Laie, Hawaii, is looking to take his talents to the NFL this weekend. He’s not fretting about where he might land. 

“I have no control over that,” he said. “I’m just leaving it in God’s hands.”

Tafua, who served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tacoma, Washington, is a three-time All-Pac-12 honoree. He was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference first team as he helped lead the Utes to their first Pac-12 championship and their first berth in the Rose Bowl. 

Tafua was also a 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl Invitee and a 2021 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year finalist. 

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During the weekend of the draft, Tafua said he plans to be back home in Hawaii. A year ago, he was flying to Hawaii when, in the air, he helped a woman give birth to a baby on the plane. 

Tafua’s always prepared to step up and help others. 

Utah has established a reputation for producing NFL defensive linemen, like Bradlee Anae, John Penisini and Leki Fotu, who were each taken in the 2020 draft. Tafua is the latest to star for the Utes and he wants to continue that tradition.

“There’s definitely a culture here and I’m blessed to be a part of it. There’s greats before me and there will be greats after me,” he said. “I’m really blessed to have come to the university and been able to make an impact the way that I have.”

Tafua said whatever NFL team takes him, he will be pleased with the results.

“I feel like when the teams come to me, they know what they’re going to get out of me. With me, you know what you’re going to get,” he said. “I feel like I provide a constant source of pressure on the quarterback. I’m really good at stopping the run. I can always get better at those things and I will constantly get better at those things. I feel like that’s what they can expect from me.”

Whatever NFL team ends up with Tafua will be getting a productive defensive lineman and a proven leader.

Former University of Utah football player Mika Tafua participates in Utah’s pro day at the Spence & Cleone Eccles Football Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News