With the NFL draft glow having dimmed for most of us, the real work for long-shots like Sailosi Latu go from full-swing to full-tilt.
As a Spartan team and fan favorite, Latu sits in relative obscurity to most. Just by being in the trenches of an upstart San Jose team and among more notable NFL-bound Mountain West players, including former Spartan QB Josh Love to the LA Rams, Latu’s opportunity is a very well-deserved surprise.
“From a pure talent point of view and the type of person Losi is, he’s a steal in this draft,” says SJS head coach Brent Brennan. “Losi’s a really hard worker and the Falcons are getting an awesome player who’s going to turn some heads.”
To Losi (loh-see), which he prefers being called, was the draft call a surprise?
*Yes, it was!” shared Latu. “It was a struggle, especially with how things had a slow start for me this year, which made it even more of a surprise.”
“When Falcon DL coach Jess Simpson had reached out to me to get more information, I think what convinced them was my size, what I did on the field last season and maybe some feedback from my former coach,” said Latu. “I believe I was someone that might fit in their organization. But yes, I’m STILL surprised that I’m in this position and that the Falcons are giving me a chance to continue playing ball.”
It wasn’t a surprise for Brennan.
“No. I’m not surprised at all. When Losi was healthy, he was one of the best interior defensive linemen in college,” added Brennan. “When you meet him and you’re around him, you get a real feel for his personality and his energy. He’s an awesome human being.”
Listed as 6-3, 334 lbs., Latu started 28 games in two seasons with the Spartans recording 107 tackles (50 solo) primarily as a nose tackle in a three-man front. With his shear gap-plugging size, Latu also turned in a very notable Pro Day among all interior defensive linemen.
Pro Day 2020 . Let the fun begin pic.twitter.com/eive688jgp— Sailosi Latu (@LatuSailosi) April 23, 2020
As most everyone loves an emerging Cinderella-story, Latu could be fitted with extra, extra-large glass slippers as well. The Tonga native faced homelessness and an uphill fight from injury to basic survival. Luckily, being Tongan is synonymous with deep family roots and Latu wasn’t alone through his tough times.
*My family has been there since the beginning of this journey. When I left home to attend Mt. San Antonio Community College, they were there every step when I needed it. There were days that I had no food, no money…nothing. And my parents would drive from Utah to SoCal before attending my games to help me,” said Latu. “My mom, Nancy, would get coupons for food for me and my roommates. My siblings would even send me some money to help with rent or just to have pocket money.”
Rewarded next with an SJSU scholarship, Latu continued to lean on his spiritual and family energy during his time with the Spartans.
“My mom prays for my health and success and I am in this state because of all of them,” says Latu. “They have polished me since I was a kid in Tonga to now. Especially my dad, Koini, who moved us out here for a better education. My grandma, Kulaea, never gives up on me. They all push me to better myself and I’m grateful for that no matter what.”
Latu will still need a lot of help and support to make his most unique life in the NFL. Latu’s agent, Evan Brennan (no relation to SJS’ Brennan) of UA Sports is the next conduit. Sports agent Brennan is known to take on high-character, under-the-radar, low-risk-high-upside players. His association with Latu speaks volumes in itself.
“Evan was brutally honest with me from the beginning. He talked to me about all the numbers I needed to hit to open up the door to the NFL,” recalls Latu. “He checks in on me to make sure that I’m always in the loop with what’s going on and I’m going to be a complete sponge to take in the feedback and anything they’re going to teach me and turn it into actions – I just have to.”
Coach Brennan’s perspective also sheds light on how mentally tough it will be for any player getting their NFL chance.
“When I talk to players making the transition to the NFL, they usually say they’re struggling to learn the playbook to which I say, ‘Well then, you’re going to get cut!” said coach Brennan. “In college, where you’re the best player, you can make a few mistakes and it’s OK, because they’ll have the whole week or camp to learn it. But in the NFL, you have the weekend or just a couple days and if you can’t demonstrate your ability to adapt and learn, you’re out. It’s a very small window.”
It’s going to take the obvious tangible things to make it as well for Latu and he seems keenly aware of what can be an overwhelming ecosystem of moving, inter-related pieces that will help determine his success.
“I know I still have many flaws to improve on,” states Latu. “I just have to keep working to improve on speed and strength, of course, and learning the schemes inside out. Like what is my job and the job of the guys next to me. I know I have to communicate even better with the coaches, trainers and players too. And especially going from a three-man front to a four-man front. It’s all going to be different.”
Hopefully, Atlanta fans may be next to endear themselves to Losi if all the pieces fall into place.
“My family and friends, my agent, my coaches and trainers are all components for me to keep getting better. Their trust that I am going to be better will also be a two-way street,” says Latu. “I have to trust that they are taking me down the right path and I’ll do my part in all that.”