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UCLA’s Atonio Mafi 2023 NFL draft diary: Shrine Bowl



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As offensive lineman Atonio Mafi transitions from UCLA to the NFL, he’s sharing his journey with Occasions employees author Ben Bolch by means of a weekly diary main as much as the draft April 27. This week, Mafi discusses being reunited along with his school teammates on the Shrine Bowl.

There are some issues you understand you’re going to need to do to make the NFL as an offensive lineman.

Present you may deal with an all-out blitz. Maintain your block in passing downs. Grasp the ideas of a posh offense.

Then there’s the sudden. Final week, I broke into tune whereas assembly with executives from one NFL crew.

Yep, it’s true. I unleashed my finest a cappella model of The Temptations’ “My Girl.”

I’ve to say, I believe I killed it.

The stunning second got here as a part of interviews with all 32 NFL groups throughout the week of the Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas.

Many of the questions had been the identical, specializing in my experiences and data of the sport. Then got here the curveball. One govt requested what I favored to do outdoors of soccer.

Once I talked about singing, he put me on the spot by asking me to sing proper there. I knew I needed to go for it. This was no time to carry again.

I’ve obtained sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s chilly outdoors,
I’ve obtained the month of Could.

After belting out a couple of bars, I seemed round to see what they thought. They requested why I had stopped.

I used to be like, “Oh, I’ll sing the remainder of it while you draft me.” Everyone simply laughed.

It was a enjoyable week. The interviews had been fairly draining, however I at all times saved in thoughts that despite the fact that it might need been the 32nd time I advised my life story, it was a crew’s first time getting to speak to me. So I stayed upbeat and made certain I answered each query as thoughtfully as potential.

The most effective a part of the week was being reunited with my previous school teammates. Guys from different groups joked about how there have been so many Bruins that the sport ought to have been known as the UCLA Bowl. We had virtually half the beginning offense again collectively between myself, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, offensive lineman Jon Gaines II and huge receivers Kazmeir Allen and Jake Bobo.

Jon needed to play on the East crew as a result of he was a late addition to the rosters, which was a bummer as a result of I didn’t get to hang around with him as a lot. However consuming meals, practising and staying on the similar resort with everyone was a reminder of how a lot I appreciated every of them.

UCLA’S Atonio Mafi leans forward and runs during a game

Former UCLA lineman Atonio Mafi just lately participated within the Shine Bowl.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Occasions)

Dorian and I joked about how I went from making an attempt to get to him in apply as a defensive lineman to creating certain nobody touched him my final three years after transferring to the opposite aspect of the ball.

Kaz at all times favored to remind me of all these touchdowns he scored towards me when our highschool groups performed on his technique to setting a California report.

Jon was so welcoming after I made the transition to offensive line, I’ll at all times bear in mind him serving to me perceive the playbook. He additionally cooks a imply burger that’s manner higher than In-N-Out.

Jake instantly befriended everyone within the one yr he performed with us as a result of he was such dude. We known as him “Outdated Dependable” as a result of he was at all times across the sticks getting that first down every time we wanted it.

We did quite a lot of enjoyable stuff earlier than the sport. A few of us went to see Dorian’s little sister play flag soccer and we obtained to bounce on the sector at Allegiant Stadium with children from the Shriners Hospital.

It felt like we had been all again at UCLA, particularly when coaches Chip Kelly and Tim Drevno popped out of nowhere whereas I used to be main the crew out of the tunnel earlier than the sport. They advised me one NFL crew actually favored what it noticed in me, although I wish to preserve its id a secret out of respect to the crew. I had been elected one of many crew captains earlier within the week primarily based on how I used to be practising and the best way I used to be conducting myself.

We gained the sport 12-3, and I used to be chosen one of the best inside lineman. We rotated gamers loads, so it was sort of exhausting to get in a rhythm, however after I was in there, I made my performs depend.

It could be superior to maintain enjoying with a number of of my UCLA teammates within the NFL, however I do know the percentages are towards it. So we made certain to actually take in each second we had throughout the week, understanding it might be our final collectively. I got here in with Dorian and Kaz again in 2018 and all of us fought by means of a lot over our 5 years to get the crew on monitor whereas so many others got here and left.

We talked about that earlier than the sport. It was a loopy experience. It’s solely proper that we completed it collectively.