How Talanoa Hufanga comes full circle as Tashaun Gipson’s mentor

From the moment Tashaun Gipson saw his fellow 49ers safety mate Talanoa Hufanga play that position, the veteran defenseman knew his younger teammate was going to be a star.

Seeing that prediction come to fruition this season has been a “blessing” for Gipson, and he recently revealed the role he and NBC Sports Bay Area’s Donte Whitner played in Hufanga’s development through an unexpected closing moment.

“Honestly, the guy’s energy is just insane,” Gipson told Whitner on the latest episode of Players Only, which aired Sunday during 49ers Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area. “And I’m going back to a story I’ll never forget.”

Gipson explained that he has taken on a mentoring role at Hufanga this season — something Whitner once did for him when the pair played together for the Cleveland Browns.

When Whitner left the 49ers in free agency to sign with the Browns ahead of the 2014 season, Gipson immediately reached out to his new teammate via Twitter.

“The first thing you said is that it’s your job to get me to the Pro Bowl. ‘I’m going to make you play at a high level,'” Gipson told Whitner. “I tell people this story all the time, and mark my words, you took my game to this Pro Bowl level.”

Whitner kept his word. The duo were voted to the Pro Bowl together this season, and now Gipson is paying up front with Hufanga.

Gipson said as soon as he found out he would be starting alongside Hufanga earlier in the year, with Jimmie Ward starting the 2022 NFL season on short-term injured reserve, he asked the sophomore about his goals.

“I have told him [saw] it in him. I said, ‘Man, you’re going to be the best safety in the league… My job is to get you where you want to go,'” said Gipson. “…I asked him what his goals are [were]. He said, ‘Man, I just want to go to a Pro Bowl.'”

Gipson told Hufanga he didn’t have to worry about making the Pro Bowl because by the time the vet was done with him, he would be one of the top safety players in the league.

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And in seven games this season, Hufanga has indeed made a name for himself. The 22-year-old is PFF’s 12th safety and, at 29, the No. 12 safety in solo tackles. His three interceptions this season have made him the third-most in the NFL.

“And to see it come to fruition, man, it’s just a blessing to watch it unfold week after week, game after game,” Gipson told Whitner. “Such a humble child, such energy. He wants to learn and it’s a blessing to be able to share the field with such a young, hungry guy.

“He’ll take over here soon if he hasn’t already.”

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