Atonio Mafi NFL Draft Diary: After my father’s illness, I can’t wait to treat my parents

As an offensive lineman Atonio Mafi transitions from UCLA to the NFL, he shares his trip with the Times editor Ben Bolch through a weekly diary in advance of Draft April 27. This week, Mafi talks about how his dad overcame a serious illness and what he hopes to buy his family if he makes it to the NFL.

Hearing that your father is seriously ill is the worst news you can get.

My father means everything to me. He is my best friend. I have pictures of him when he was younger and I look just like him, just a lot taller.

Peter Mafi played rugby for the Tongan national team and was so tough he was known as Tongan Steel. He calls me Little Steel and referenced my nickname this month when texting ahead of Pro-Day.

“Get out there Little Steel,” he wrote.

“I got you,” I replied.

Atonio Mafi’s NFL Draft Diary

I found out last summer that he was sick just before fall camp started. Time kind of froze when we were on the phone. I felt so helpless, especially since he was back home in the Bay Area and I was at UCLA trying to prepare for my final college football season. It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

Dad told me God had a plan and I couldn’t help him worry. He said to relax and focus on football. It wasn’t always that easy. I had a few wine sessions but luckily I had a great support system at school that helped me get through.

I immediately told my guys on the team because I knew they could help me feel better. Josh Carlin, Siale Taupaki and Tyler Manoa were really there for me and Tim Drevno, my offensive line coach, kept checking in to make sure I was okay.

It also helped that my dad came to as many games as possible so I could see for myself that he was brave in this challenge. Our game day routine was always the same. He was going to blow up my phone while we rode the team bus up the 405 to the 118 and wanted to know when we were going to get to the Rose Bowl.

As soon as we got there I got off the bus to say a little prayer with him and my mother Nui before going to the dressing room. After the games we either went out to eat or went back to my apartment together and relaxed for a while before they had to go home.

I got my prankster side from my dad and my work ethic from my mom. She has worked two jobs for most of my life and taught me the importance of sacrifice. She keeps me clear headed and humble no matter how successful I am.

Not long after our bowl game in late December, I received great news: my father had made a full recovery. It was such a relief to know that he would be fine and that we would be spending a lot more time together.

I asked my parents if they wanted to move to the NFL town where I live after the draft and they said no, we’re fine. You will stay in the Bay Area.

But I will definitely treat them to something big to show them how much they mean to me. Maybe I’ll buy them a car or pay for a trip wherever they want to go. If they want to go back home to Tonga I would definitely arrange that.

I also want to buy my older brother Tita something, maybe a fancy guitar, because he’s a really talented musician. We always pretended to play out the UCLA-USC rivalry even before I came to Westwood and got each other in the face to see who would be the most intimidating. I put on a blue shirt because I loved the color and acted like a bruin, and he put on red and became a trojan. I have to say I definitely won that sibling rivalry.

I’ll probably afford a Tesla because I’ve wanted one for a while. I’m just so thankful my dad will be around for a long time to ride shotgun.

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