Jahlani Tavai is entering a whole new world.
The Detroit Lions linebacker and 2019 second-round pick is a long ways away from the Hawaiian Islands where he played college football and the beaches of Southern California where he played in high school.
He is also faced with the new challenge of playing in the NFL, and most likely stepping into a huge role in Matt Patricia’s defense this season.
It is a lot to take on for a young player, but Tavai is abiding by a simple message.
“My main message right now is literally take it day by day,” Tavai told reporters after OTAs on Tuesday.
As challenging as the days ahead will be, he has great people leading him.
“[I’ve been] getting to learn from guys who are vets here. They’re great leaders and I strive to try and become a leader like them,” Tavai said.
For Tavai this is a huge paradigm shift. At Hawaii, he was one of the team leaders. The linebacker was the quarterback of the defense and the most important player on that side of the ball. He was the face of the team and most important guy in the locker room.
The linebacker notched 390 combined tackles and 16.5 sacks in his four years as a Rainbow Warrior. He led the Mountain West Conference in solo tackles in 2016, and landed in the top 10 in 2017. It would not be a stretch to name him as one of the best linebackers to ever play at the University of Hawaii.
In Detroit he is back at the bottom. A rookie entering a new league, a new city, and attempting to learn a new playbook.
He is taking things one step at a time, though.
“First I gotta learn the playbook. I gotta perfect that part,” Tavai said, “The vets learned it last year and they’re doing a great job for the younger guys. I just gotta take the responsibility to learn it on my own and do the right thing.”
As the challenges ramp up for the rookie, he at least feels as though he is in the right place. He spoke highly of both the leadership on the roster and the leadership in the organization as a whole.
“This is a great environment. I love how the coaches have a standard on being successful,” he said, adding “I wanna ingrain that in my mindset and just come out here everyday and just be a Lion.”
The rookie has already managed to make quite the impression as a Lion, leaping into the air to snag an impressive interception off of backup quarterback Tom Savage on Day 3 of OTAs.
A look at Jahlani Tavai's INT in practice today pic.twitter.com/XTxbVcX586— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) May 24, 2019
Detroit should be just as excited to have Tavai as he is to have them, and as he learns and grows, they hope they have found a potential star in the 2019 NFL draft.
But for now, Tavai still just has a simple message. Take things day by day.
“I’m just gonna have that mindset and take care of what I can control.”