TAMPA — Sefo Liufau isn't coming into the NFL with any of the fanfare his uncle had. But if things go right, he'll make his preseason debut in August in a game featuring the two teams that Jack Thompson played for.
Technically, Thompson — famous as "The Throwin' Samoan" when he was the No. 3 overall pick by the Bengals in 1979 — is a cousin of Liufau's father. But he's mentored him as a quarterback since high school, and the 60-year-old Thompson says his old team is getting a smart young passer who shouldn't be underestimated.
"The thing about Sefo is you'll see his leadership traits right from the get-go," Thompson said by phone from Washington. "You're getting a very high-character young man. He'll learn the playbook. He's as bright as anybody. … It's kind of cool, though they have much better uniforms now."
Liufau — pronounced SEH-foh LOO-fow — was passed over in the NFL draft, and signed with the Bucs for a $10,000 signing bonus. His other offer was an invitation to try out in his home state for the Seahawks at their rookie minicamp.
"I'm really happy to have the opportunity to be part of the organization," said Liufau, 22, who spent a half-hour talking with Bucs quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian at the NFL combine. "Tampa Bay seemed to be the best option for me, and I'm pretty excited. I'm very blessed to be in the position that I'm in."
Not only was Thompson the No. 3 overall pick in 1979, but four years later, as the Bucs feared starter Doug Williams might bolt for the USFL, they traded a first-round pick to Cincinnati for Thompson. Tampa Bay would go 2-14 in 1983, so the pick the Bucs gave up became the No. 1 overall pick.
Under such high expectations, Thompson fell well short of his record-setting days at Washington State. He was done after two seasons in Tampa Bay, but has fond memories of his time with the Bucs, especially of his old teammates.
"Certainly, Lee Roy Selmon. Mark Cotney was one of my favorite guys," he said. "I remember the players for sure. Kevin House, Jerry Bell, Mel Carver. And James Wilder, whoa. He was a stud. He was quite a specimen. Good guys that I was fortunate to play with."
Thompson has enjoyed life after football. He worked for a coffee company, sold that and got into mortgages and banking. He has stayed involved, working with high school football teams and training players like Liufau.
Like Liufau's father, Joe, Thompson was born in Samoa. He said Sefo's mannerisms remind him of another college standout of Samoan heritage he's had the chance to know, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
"They have similar temperaments," he said. "Natural leaders. I'm happy for him. If anyone's going to make the best of this, it's Sefo."
Thompson hasn't been to a Bucs game in 30 years. His last in the stands was a preseason game in 1987, when he still lived in Tampa and Vinny Testaverde was a rookie. He'd love to make it to one of Liufau's games in preseason.
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Liufau, a four-year starter at Colorado who passed for 60 touchdowns against 35 interceptions in his college career, said he's learned from Thompson's experiences — the two went to lunch together Thursday to talk about the draft and his future. He's careful to listen, especially to his advice to cherish all the time he has in football.
"The biggest thing I took away from him was his thoughts on college football and the NFL," he said. "To him, it's about leadership and using football as a tool for your own life. He said most of all, enjoy everything."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.