Patriots G – Atonio Mafi – 2023 Draft, Pick 144
April 29, 2023
Q: Congratulations on joining the Patriots. Can you just talk about your time with the coaches at the Shrine Bowl and what you took away from that experience?
AM: Definitely. I had a really good experience getting to learn firsthand from an NFL coaching staff, and then just happening to be picked up by them is obviously a blessing. I feel like I have a little bit of a taste of what I'm getting into and I'm just excited to continue my growth with them.
Q: After spending so much time with them, did you kind of have a feeling that you might end up in New England?
AM: You never know where you end up in these kinds of days. It gets a little nervous and stuff, but I'm just blessed to be in this position now.
Q: I believe your cousins with Devin Asiasi? I'm just wondering if he's told you anything about what to expect playing for the Patriots?
AM: Most definitely. He's just told me already that it's a great place. I was there when he got drafted to the Patriots and his mom is here too right now for my draft party, and it's just been really good. I talked to him right after the call actually and he told me to go in with an open mind and to be really excited, come in with my head on right and get ready to work. I'm just really excited.
Q: Atonio, congratulations. For those who don't know you well, how would you describe yourself as a football player and your game?
AM: Just a guy that's willing to learn and willing to work. I feel like as a player I've yet to reach my full potential. I'm just kind of ready to go in there with a big coaching staff and just continue getting better day by day and just work. That's what I love to do. That's kind of the player I am, just put my head down and get to work.
Q: Other than the East-West Shrine Bowl, did you have any other pre-draft contact with the Patriots this spring?
AM: Yes, I did. They were one of my top 30 visits. So, yeah.
Q: What was that visit like coming to New England?
AM: It was amazing. It was great. Just like every other visit, the top 30 visits, they really take care of you, they tell you what to expect if I was lucky enough to be drafted there. In New England, they do a great job of conveying what they see their program's working towards and how I would potentially fit if I were to end up there, and it just went great overall. It was my first time to New England, so I really loved the area and I'm just happy to be going back there soon.
Q: Was it one of many for you?
AM: It was one of a few. I had a few visits that all went really well. I'm just really happy to be with the Patriots.
Q: Congratulations. I want to ask you about your transition from defense to offense. I read that it was your decision to make that move. Just curious what the motivation was for that and what that process was like?
AM: Just the way my playing time was going at UCLA, I'm the kind of guy that just wants to help the team. I saw my role on the d-line was diminishing, so I just went and asked if there was any way I could play o-line and then if that would help me to see the field quicker. Things kind of worked out in the best way for me. I'm here now and I'm just really happy that I actually made that call after a few years, like three years ago.
Q: Also, quickly wanted to ask you about your rugby background. What kind of level did you play at back in high school and do any of those skills translate on the football field?
AM: Most definitely. My dad played for the Tongan national rugby team. So rugby was always big in our household. I played it as a kid all the way through high school. Obviously, once football started getting on, football kind of outgrew rugby but rugby definitely made me tough, have grit and just be able to get through things that were not always easy. I think rugby definitely helped me there, just being a little more athletic and just being – you know, you don't have pads in rugby, so you've got to be a little tougher, so I definitely give a lot of credit to rugby.
Q: Do you go by Nio, is that correct?
AM: Yes, I go by Nio.
Q: And you're studying for your master's degree?
AM: I received my master's degree in education and then I got my bachelor's in political science.
Q: I wanted to ask you about your high school days at Sierra High School. Of course, there's a famous grad among many famous athletic grads who had a great career here in New England. Did you look up to Tom Brady at all?
AM: Of course, you know, in this area everyone kind of knows the greats that have come through these high schools. I'm actually having my draft party here at Sierra at the high school, so everyone kind of knows I grew up a Patriots fan and watching Tom Brady and it's kind of surreal. It was kind of a full circle moment leading up there too. So really excited for the future.
Q: What is your draft party like? Do you have a big family?
AM: Yes, I am 100% Tongan. I'm full-blooded, so I come from a very big family and I got a lot of people here. The thing is, it takes a village to raise a child, and this is on full display today here. So I'm just really grateful that my family could be here and witness it for me. It was a long time coming for all of us.
Q: You mentioned that your dad played on the national team in rugby. I understand reading about your background that you've lived there for some time as well in high school. What was that experience like?
AM: It was great.
Q: Lastly, with that the number of people you mentioned are you are representing in your family, now that you're living a dream, are they living the dream as well with you?
AM: Most definitely. A lot of work was put into me getting here, that I've put in but also a lot of work that my family put into keeping me on the right path, keeping me safe, out of trouble and there's even things family members have done for me that I may not know. Just all the sacrifices and hard work they've done, and this was as much of a big day for me as it was for them. I'm very family oriented, so I'm just really happy that my family got the call. This wasn't just me, it was all of us.
Q: I was reading an interesting story that you wrote in the LA Times about mental health and sort of how you approach the mental aspect of college ball and the draft process. Just wondering as you prepare now for the switch to the NFL, how important will it be to develop a routine and find the balance that you talked about in that story?
AM: It will definitely be an integral part of this transition. With football, obviously everyone knows about how tough football can be on your body, but you also can get a little tough on you mentally as well. So I just think the biggest thing is trying to translate what worked for me in college into the NFL, and if not, just to keep talking to the people or using the resources that are there. Find out what works for me and have everything in balance and so on Sundays I can go out there and do my job and do what's asked of me.