Talanoa Hufanga

49ers' Mustapha finding more in common with Hufanga than football

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SANTA CLARA — New 49ers safety Malik Mustapha credits his downhill, hard-hitting approach to football to watching Talanoa Hufanga, whom he has more in common with than just playing safety.

“It is awesome, and now just being able to get the opportunity to be his teammate,” Mustapha said Thursday. “It’s going to be awesome. Being able to be a sponge and learn from him, the way he just comes downhill, his tenacity, his mentality, the way he approaches the game.

“It is something that I really took a lot out of his book to try to implement into my own game, so it will be nice to get a first-hand experience learning from him, and being able to get accustomed to the new defense and new plays on the team.”

Mustapha transferred to Wake Forest where he spent three seasons after playing his freshman year at Richmond. The fourth-round (No. 125) pick registered 138 tackles, 21 quarterback pressures and six pass breakups over his college career, per PFF.com.

The former Demon Deacon shared that he already has felt the warm welcome from the organization upon being drafted a few weeks ago.

“Hufanga hit me up when I got the call, got the draft pick,” Mustapha said. “George Kittle DM’ed me, so that was pretty cool. Guys have reached out, coaches are very welcoming as well. Excited to meet the new guys out there.”

Along with playing the same style of football, Mustapha has another life experience in common with Hufanga — an ACL injury. The rookie suffered the knee injury in January 2022 and hopes to be a resource for the third-year defender if possible.                                                                             

“I actually meant to talk to him [about it],” Mustapha said. “It was a crazy day when I got drafted so I didn’t get to it, but definitely something I want to talk to him about because I’m pretty sure with him, I wouldn’t think that’s going to slow him down at all.

“Even with me, that was something that I accepted. Recovery is going to suck. This recovery can make or break you. The strongest will prevail. It was something that I was blessed to come back in a short period of time and be able to play a full season.” 

Mustapha’s mental approach was shaped even more by his injury and the challenge of returning to the game better than he left it.

“It’s just about your purpose, and your why,” Mustapha said. “[It’s] how you approach everything, and that’s just life in general. It was just a hump in the road that helped me build my character.”

The 21-year-old believes that Hufanga will come back even better than before and can’t wait to share the field with the All-Pro. As far as when Mustapha felt himself on the field after the recovery, it just took one hit to know his knee was fully healed.

“I think I got chop-blocked on the third game,” Mustapha said. “I got up and I didn’t feel anything. That was when I knew I was good. That’s all it takes.” 

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