Family, football, faith

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The noise from the cheering fans muffles into the background. Gloved hands brace against a worn turf field. Under his helmet, sweat accumulates on his face. His eyes lock focus on the opponent across from him as he waits for the football to be snapped.

“It’s second and 10, and you didn’t get that first down,” said Capt. Fabian Tafuna, 22nd Air Refueling Wing chaplain. “If you messed up, don’t look back; keep going. Ask yourself, ‘What do I have to do from here to get that 10 yards and live to see another down?’”

Before joining the Air Force, Tafuna played football as a fullback at Weber State University, Utah, while earning his Bachelors Degree.

Football is a family sport; both his father and brother played in college. From a young age, Tafuna was instilled with fulfilling the American dream by continuing the family tradition of earning a football scholarship and receiving a free college education. Excelling his senior year, Tafuna was selected as the National Collegiate Athletic Association all-American fullback for his division.

“Nobody on my team was getting talked to like I was getting talked to,” said Tafuna. “It would have been my dream to go for the NFL, even if I would have gotten cut. There was a part of me that just wanted to try it, because I had worked so hard to get to that point where I was even getting talked to by recruiters.”

The season Tafuna graduated with his degree, he was getting scouted by NFL recruiters. The offers presented the possibility for a professional contract and draft status on the line, but in the end there was no guarantee.

“If you are a college football player so many of us just think National Football League or bust,” said Tafuna. “For me, it turned into just doing anything to play football—the means to an end was kind of lost. I didn’t think, ‘let’s get a great degree and make a difference in academia.’ It’s do whatever to pass the class and stay eligible to continue to play football.”

At the same time the NFL was trying to recruit him, Tafuna got an offer from another organization.

“My church was recruiting me as a religious education instructor,” said Tafuna. “I ignored the calling for a while when I was in school because I was getting recruited by the NFL, but in the end I couldn’t ignore it. I decided in order for me to get rid of this feeling, I needed to pursue it.”

Tafuna gave up his chance at the NFL and took a full time teaching job with The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints.

“I was glad to support him in what he felt was right for his career and what he felt like the Lord was calling him to do,” said Carissa Tafuna, his wife. “I'm grateful for my husband's experiences and growth from having played football competitively at the college level and I believe that it's influence has helped guide us to the path we are on now.”

In March 2016, Tafuna joined another family, the Air Force family, as he commissioned and became part of the military chaplaincy.

“The timing, the place, the people, it all lined up. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.” said Tafuna. “Football and the military are both families. I think that’s why a lot of military folk connect well with football, because they can relate to the warrior ethos, teamwork and the whole battle mentality. Your fellow Airmen are your brothers, you do anything for them, just like lineman.”

In the end everything did line up for Tafuna. Though he didn’t get his NFL contract, football is still a part of his life. Alongside his fellow Airmen, Tafuna still plays for the squadron and base flag football teams.

“I’m grateful for those years—it taught me a lot of life lessons,” said Tafuna. “I learned a lot about forgiveness. You have to forgive yourself when you make a mistake. In football and in life you don’t have time to think about the last play, you just have to move on.”