Grit and determination

It's pretty hard to ignore 6'4 278 pound <!--Default NodeId For Joe Tafoya is 722201,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:722201]>Joe Tafoya</A>. With an aggressive hitting style that resulted in a career high 11 special teams tackles in 2002,this veteran player seems poised for the big time. While you may not be seeing any #99 jerseys on fans in the stands quite yet, don't be surprised if Tafoya makes an even greater impact this year.

"It's not about the fame, it is about pride, and about making a positive contribution on the field," Tafoya said. "I want to know that I am doing my best work each and every game."

Tafoya earned early honors as a Blue Chip All-American while attending Pittsburg (Calif) High School. During his prep career, He achieved 105 tackles while also lettering in baseball and track. The youngest of three children, Tafoya has always enjoyed athletic competition.

Tampa Bay selected Tafoya in the seventh round (234th overall) in the 2001 draft. He was waived by the Bucs at the end of training camp, then signed by the Bears for the practice squad midway through the season.

For a player on the fringe of making the team every year, determination goes a long way.

"You can never let yourself give up. That was true in high school, in college (Arizona), and now in the pros," Tafoya said. "I was discouraged when Tampa let me go, but I ended up with the Bears. I felt that the time and effort I had put into the game finally paid off. That was very satisfying."

Since turning pro, Tafoya has found that paying attention to basic conditioning is the cornerstone of a productive career. Always interested in keeping in top physical condition, Tafoya has entered the type of year round training program that is recommended for elite athletes, including NFL players. He trains at Loyola Marymount in California during the offseason, and at the Multiplex in Deerfield. Tafoya's primary focus has been on Olympic lifting, power lifting, and lateral speed.

"Things have changed so much in the league," he said. "Years ago, training camp was the time when players could just show up without having done anything in terms of workouts during the offseason. Now, you'd better be in the best shape that you can on the first day you step out on that field. Competition for positions is intense. If you aren't good enough to hold your spot, you can be sure somebody else will be right there just waiting to take your place."

Although Tafoya played much of last season wearing a removable cast to protect an early season wrist injury, he felt that he was able to improve his level of play significantly.

"That is one of the reasons that I am looking forward to this year," he said. "There were times last year when it got pretty painful hitting people with that wrist. I know the schemes, I feel comfortable with the defense and with the players around me. After extensive rehabilitation training, I'm at 100 percent now and ready to go all out."

During the recent telecast of the Bears-Broncos game in Champaign, Tafoya was repeatedly singled out by commentator and former Bears great Mike Ditka as ‘one of the most dependable, most underrated players in the NFL.' Ditka also mentioned Tafoya as ‘a guy I would have liked to have had on any of my teams.' Why all the fuss over this dependable journeyman player?

"I don't know why I am getting noticed right now," Tafoya says. "But it sure is about time for that to happen. Mike Ditka has always given me a lot of support. It's something that I've really appreciated. I hope that the current Bears coaches are noticing me as well."

Head coach Dick Jauron seems to feel that Tafoya has come into the 2003 season as a potentially strong defensive threat.

"Joe played an outstanding game," Jauron said recently, after the preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. "He is a good steady player. I expect a lot of excellent production from him this year."

While Tafoya isn't being considered for a starting role, there is still room to make an impact on special teams and as a dependable backup.

"I want to think of myself as an every down player," Tafoya said. "I needed to get into a comfort zone. That's beginning to happen. I've been with the Bears for three years and I feel at home. I'm ready to really get rolling, I notice that I can read offenses much better this year and make the right defensive moves much faster than before. That's making a noticeable difference in my level of play."

If this is, indeed, Tafoya's breakout year, you might want to get your order in for that #99 jersey. It could be the 2003-4 season's fashion statement.

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