By Tim Whelan Jr., USA TODAY High School Sports | October 12, 2017 4:58 pm ET
Crescent Valley (Corvallis, Ore.) athlete Talanoa Hufanga received his honorary jersey Thursday at his school as part of the Army All-American Selection Tour Presented by American Family Insurance.
He is the first player in school history to receive such an honor.
“It is cool,” he said. “It’s the first time it’s ever happened at our school. I worked my butt off for this. I have great teammates who are by my side, pushing me to be the best I can. It means a lot.”
Hufanga, a 6-1, 193-pound four-star recruit, is rated as the No. 1 overall player in the state of Oregon and the No. 1 athlete (No. 58 player overall) in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite.
“I’m excited, but at the same time it’s nerve-racking for such an honor for this happen,” said Hufanga, who stars at safety and wide receiver. “God blessed me and put me in this position to do great things. I’ve got to show the world what I can do, and I’m excited to get started.”
While Hufanga may be the first in school history to reach the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he is not the first in his family to do so.
Last year, Hufanga watched as his cousin Marlon Tuipolutu was selected as an Army All-American. Tuipolutu, a freshman at USC who recently underwent season-ending back surgery, was a five-star defensive tackle out of Central (Independence, Ore.).
“My cousin was in it last year, and that was one thing that helped motivate me,” Hufanga said. “I thought ‘I’m really going to push for this now, to get invited to this game.’ I just had to keep on working, to see what my game will present and see who will notice. When my cousin got this honor, I thought ‘It’s possible.’ I started working even harder after.”
Hufanga said most college coaches see him as a safety, with the potential to play both ways.
As for a favorite position or side of the ball?
“Any position to be honest,” he said. “Safety is the one I enjoy playing the most. On offense, receiver, running back – wherever coach wants me.”
Among his football role models is former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who just happened to attend USC, one of the final six schools on Hufanga’s list.
While he’s uncommitted, Hufanga recently told The Oregonian he had cut his top six choices to Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah. He will visit Nebraska this weekend after already taking official trips to UCLA and Utah. He plans on visits to Michigan and USC in the near future.
“The recruiting process, it’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Hufanga said. “I’m taking it slow, seeing through my eyes everything I want to see. It’s a cool time in my life.”
With a state championship his goal for his Crescent Valley squad that currently sits at 6-0, Hufanga is enjoying all that high school football entails before taking the next step.
“The feeling, the sensation you get, the goosebumps when you come to game, those are what make football great,” Hufanga said. “And it’s a character builder. You fight with your brothers, you battle every weekend. That’s the coolest thing about it.”
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 6 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, and will be televised live on NBC at 1 p.m. EST.