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Former Husky Vita Vea Made Super Comeback to Reach Super Bowl

The one-time UW defensive tackle missed a dozen games with a broken foot, but nothing could keep him out of the showcase event in Tampa.
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VV made it to LV.

It took a lot of grit and determination on his part, but Vita Vea — one of the NFL's more endearing personalities and bright young stars — will be one of the Super Bowl LV players to watch when his inclusion didn't seem possible not so long ago. 

Knowing this Tongan-American character, how could he not play in Sunday's championship game?

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive tackle will be on hand when football's showcase event unfolds in Tampa, the Gulf Coast city that employs Vea on a regular basis. 

It's a chance for him to show all his friends and neighbors what he can do under a huge spotlight.

Not only that, this 6-foot-5, 347-pound bundle of energy — who answers to Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea — always has made it a point to get intimately involved in just about everything that happens on the football field wherever he's gone in his career.

At his high school in Northern California, Vea emerged as a defensive stalwart worthy of disrupting an opponent, and he further rubbed it in by lining up in the backfield and supplying yards and touchdowns as an imposing running back or Wildcat quarterback.

At the University of Washington, he continued his domination up front as one of the nation's foremost down linemen, plus he totally put the fear of God in other teams by showing up as a scary looking special-teamer making open-field tackles and even blocking a punt.

In Tampa, Vea has become a fan favorite because you easily can bump into this unassuming guy at the local grocery store, stocking up on all kinds of food and sundry items.

Vita Vea does his grocery shopping.

Vita Vea picks up some groceries. 

Bucs fans have enjoyed his unconventional football side, as well. 

A year ago, Vea lined up in the tailback position, casually drifted into the flat and ceremoniously hauled in a 1-yard scoring pass from departed quarterback Jameis Winston, catching the opposing side by complete surprise.

He's a man for all seasons, surprises and superlatives.

Vea enters as an unlikely Super Bowl LV participant, coming back from a broken ankle suffered in Week 5 against the Chicago Bears, incurring a serious injury that would have sidelined most others until next summer.

While everyone in this Florida community has been rooting for him to make it back, the Kansas City Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl champs and a repeat title-game participant, weren't all that pleased to see Vea on the active roster and showing no ill effects after snapping a bone or two in his foot. 

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes acknowledged Vea and his prowess in the game lead-up, showing him ultimate respect.

"He's a guy that you gotta know where he's at on every single play," Mahomes said. "He's obviously super disruptive in the run game, but he's just as good as a pass rusher. You don't see guys lie that playing that position that can rush the passer that much." 

Vea missed a dozen games after a teammate fell on him on October 8 against the Bears, his bones snapped and his loud cries were heard echoing through an empty Soldier Field in the Windy City.

The big man decided that night he would do everything he could to get. He knew full well that a Super Bowl berth was possible with the ageless and gifted Tom Brady manning the Bucs quarterback job. 

"I knew at the end of the day, I'd be back," Vea said. "I kept telling myself, 'I'll be back.' "

He went to work as soon as he could, rebuilding his strength and stamina. He kept his weight down to 347 by eating healthy meals prepared by a personal chef who worked for teammate and fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

The Bucs had no intention of bringing him back this season until they saw him tackle his running and workouts like he would a helpless ball carrier. 

Coach Bruce Arians and Vea formed a pact that came to fruition.

"I think that was like our little thing to each other," the lineman said. "Every time, we'd see each other, we'd look at each other like, 'Keep winning, I'll show up.' "

Vita Vea takes part in the Fiesta Bowl.

Vita Vea played against Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Vea made it back for the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers and them know he was ready to go from the first play, chasing quarterback Aaron Rodgers into Bucs teammate Jason Pierre-Paul for a sack. 

A 38-10 victory in Green Bay guaranteed the Bucs one more game in Tampa with everything on the line. And a chance for Vea to knock off more rust. 

With the Florida forecast calling for a 75 percent chance of rain on Sunday, Vea's involvement in a run-heavy game with a slick field can't be understated.

Mahomes knows this, that whether it rains or not in Tampa, he betterl be looking for No. 50.

"I have to know where he is every single play in order to not let him disrupt the entire game," the quarterback said of Vita Vea. "He's a special talent." 

A versatile, persistent and healthy talent.

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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