ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Chiefs rookie defensive tackle Charles Tuaau is far from home, separated by more than 2,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean to the mainland.
The hiatus is for good reason, however, as the native of Wahiawa, Hawaii, hopes to make an impact in training camp and ultimately stick with the Chiefs.
“I haven’t been home for three years almost, but I’m on the grind,” Tuaau said. “I graduated with my bachelor’s and I’m still trying to work. I miss everybody, but everybody knows what I’m trying to do with my life.”
Tuaau’s journey began when the Chiefs signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M Commerce, where he appeared in 23 games with 14 starts and totaled 86 tackles (45 solo) and 17 sacks after transferring from Riverside City College.
The Chiefs have a need for depth at the defensive tackle position with Dontari Poe recovering from back surgery, and the status of Poe’s return remains unclear.
Tuaau certainly has an opportunity to catch the coaching staff’s eye as he experiences snaps with the second- and third-team defensive line.
And he has impressed starting inside linebacker Josh Mauga, who called Tuaau “relentless.”
“For being a rookie, he holds it down,” Mauga said. “I got to line up behind him a few times the first week and he does a great job. He gets back there, he drives the linemen back, and that helps us out because we can play fast.”
The 6-5, 310-pound Tuaau looks the part of an interior lineman and he has made noticeable impact plays in training camp.
One such play arrived Sunday when he teamed with defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo, a native of Tonga whom Tauua said he has grown close to given their respective island roots, and pushed the center and left guard back during an 11-on-11 goal-line drill. Their collective effort opened a clear lane for inside linebacker Justin March to fill the hole and prevent the running back from scoring a touchdown.
Tuaau made his part of the play look easy, but the transition from Texas A&M Commerce to life in the NFL didn’t come without challenges.
“It was a big step for me coming from a D-II to a high level of professional athletes,” Tuaau said. “Honestly, the hardest thing was probably grasping the playbook. That’s probably the hardest thing. I’ve never seen a playbook so complex and difficult, but still this is the job and what I came out here to do. This is what I love.”
Meanwhile, a large part of the Pacific Island culture Tuaau is accustomed to surrounds family.
While Tuaau isn’t around blood relatives, he has developed a family-like bond with teammates to offer a sense of home.
Help also arrives from veteran Chiefs defensive linemen Allen Bailey, Mike DeVito, Jaye Howard and Mike Catapano, and Tuaau said the mentorship has proven invaluable through training camp.
More importantly, the advice from the veterans serves as motivation.
“They tell us every day you come here, you got to bust your ass,” Tuaau said. “You have to do work unless you want to be packing your bags the next day and go home. I don’t want to. I’m really thankful for having vets, great guys, really great guys. I’ve heard some stories of other teams, they’re harsh.”
Another player on the Chiefs’ roster Tuaau formed a bond with is running back Charcandrick West.
West and Tuaau are represented by United Athlete Agency and the duo trained together prior to training camp.
“I didn’t even know Charcandrick until we started training and Charcandrick is a good man,” Tuaau said. “He really pushes me when we work out.”
West is happy to see the time the two spent together putting in extra work produced positive results.
“Charles is a big, strong guy,” West said. “We had to get him in good conditioning. He worked so hard this offseason and it’s paying off.”
Tuaau complimented West’s willingness to provide tips despite the two playing different position.
And he used the opportunity to gain insight on how to prepare and what to expect from the coaching staff in training camp based on another area the two have in common.
“He was an undrafted free agent like me, so what he told me was just got to grind,” Tuaau said. “I’m still grinding.”
Kansas City has put nine full-team training camp practices and three rookie/quarterback workouts in the books, and the final chapter on Tuaau’s goal of making the roster remains unwritten.
But he maintains focus knowing there are five more practices and four preseason games to contribute to the coaching staff’s decision.
“I’m trying to get a spot on the team and I’ll work day-by-day,” Tuaau said. “Every day I wake up, it’s a blessing.”