SEATTLE – Jay-Tee Tiuli walked out of the Seahawks locker room following last week’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos, the rookie defensive tackle making his way toward a group of family members clad in blue and green who made the 23-mile jaunt from Federal Way.
This was a true home game for the former Eastern Washington star.
Tiuli’s first professional outing – a 22-14 win at CenturyLink Field, the home of his longtime favorite NFL franchise – saw the 6-foot-3, 340-pounder log substantial playing time in the second half.
The undrafted talent mixed it up in the trenches with former Eastern Washington teammate Jake Rodgers, a fifth-year NFL offensive tackle and Shadle Park grad trying to carve out a spot in Denver.
Tiuli paced alongside prominent Seahawks Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, players Tiuli revered as a senior at Federal Way High School when the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014.
These were the moments the 2018 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year dreamed about, coming to fruition.
“It was pretty amazing. All of my family came out,” said Tiuli, who faces the Minnesota Vikings on the road Sunday. “Having watched the Seahawks growing up nearby, it was great to play my first pro game here at CenturyLink.”
He wants that feeling to last.
Tiuli hopes, at the very least, to earn a spot on the Seahawks practice roster and gain a foothold in the league. The Seahawks will cut their roster from 90 players to 53 by the end of this month.
The recent six-game suspension of starter Jarran Reed will help the chances of Tiuli, who was listed as second-team defensive tackle on the Seahawks’ depth chart against the Broncos.
“I need to work on playing the run better, and show them I’m a big, athletic dude,” Tiuli said. “If they like it, they like it, and if they don’t, they don’t.”
Tiuli’s size, motor and big-bodied agility made him a force in the Big Sky Conference, where he was a two-time Football Championship Subdivision All-American.
Tiuli and former EWU cornerback Josh Lewis were invited to Seattle’s rookie camp in May, but the Seahawks did not extend a contract to Lewis.
“Eastern helped me tremendously, from the coaches there to guys around me,” Tiuli said. “Before me, they had guys who were drafted and got their way (to the NFL).”
Tiuli is one of nine former EWU standouts on an NFL roster, along with Rodgers, running back Taiwan Jones (Houston Texans), receiver Kendrick Bourne (San Francisco 49ers), and five Eagle alums on the Los Angeles Rams: receivers Cooper Kupp and Nsimba Webster, linebackers Samson Ebukam and Ketner Kupp, and center Aaron Neary.
Tiuli helped EWU lead the Big Sky in fewest points allowed last season (16.9), something he believes his former team is capable of doing again in 2019.
How will the Eagles’ interior defensive line be without his presence in the middle?
“They’ll be good,” Tiuli said. “You have Dylan Ledbetter, Keith Moore, and young guys like Caleb Davis and Josh Jerome and Darnell Hogan. If the coaching is still the same, it’s going to be great for everyone.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.