49ers Taumoepenu feels alive sending Christmas gifts to native Tonga

Freshly promoted pass rusher sends shipment of gifts home for the holiday

Pita Taumoepenu, a 49ers linebacker who got promoted to the roster Wednesday, stands in front of a shipping container he filled with Christmas gifts for his native Tonga. (Photo courtesy of Pita Taumoepenu)
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SANTA CLARA — Pita Taumoepenu spent Tuesday packing up a shipping container with Christmas gifts for his native village of Pea in Tonga, about a two-week voyage in the South Pacific.

The next day, the 49ers gave him his long-awaited present: a promotion from the practice squad onto the 53-man roster.

San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Pita Taumoepenu (45) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Sloter (1) in the fourth quarter at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group)

Before he unloads his pass-rushing potential on the Denver Broncos on Sunday, let’s rewind to explain what and why he loaded a care package home.

“The first things I loaded were cleats and gloves from college (Utah), but my mom and I also bought toys and shoes, and some furniture, and flip flops,” said Taumoepenu, a 2017 sixth-round draft pick who played only special teams in two games as a rookie.

“Growing up in Tonga, my grandma said that being alive is making other people feel better,” Taumoepenu, 24, said. “This makes me feel good.”

What a great way for Taumoepenu (pronounced: “TAO-moy-PEH-new”) to spend his final practice-squad paycheck of $7,600 – and then some.

“Some years, I got Christmas presents, and some years I didn’t,” Taumoepenu said. “I want to make sure all the people in my village get Christmas presents.

“I know what it feels like not to get them.”

He didn’t start playing football until he moved to Utah in high school, having grown up playing rugby in Tonga. When Taumoepenu arrived in last year’s draft, he was undersized and raw. Now his 6-foot-1 frame is 250 pounds of refined muscle to enhance his speed rush toward Case Keenum on Sunday.

Taumoepenu isn’t complaining he’s had to wait so long amid a 2-10 season, the result of defensive linemen mostly avoiding injury, unlike other units. Dekoda Watson’s torn calf last game finally opened a spot for Taumoepenu.

“He was always part of the first discussion: ‘Is it time? Is it time? Is it time?’ ” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “But, every week, our organization has had to deal with (other injuries), whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, with a different group.

“So, now it’s his turn. Hopefully, he takes advantage of it.”

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