Atonio Mafi NFL draft diary: Time to celebrate after getting drafted by Patriots

As offensive lineman Atonio Mafi transitions from UCLA to the NFL, he is sharing his journey with Times staff writer Ben Bolch through a weekly diary. In the final entry, Mafi discusses the thrill of being drafted.

I didn’t need to hear Bill Belichick’s voice to know the New England Patriots were about to make my dream come true.

When I saw the Massachusetts area code with (MA) next to it on my phone, right away I knew who was calling and what was going to happen. I was moments away from getting selected in the NFL draft. I picked up the phone, took a deep breath and said, “Hello.”

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Watching me take the call, my older brother let out a joyous scream and everyone who had gathered inside the library of my Bay Area high school to watch the third day of the NFL draft started yelling. It got so loud that I had to walk out of the library into a nearby stairwell to hear what was being said on the phone.

It was a short conversation. Coach Belichick told me the Patriots were going to draft me with the next pick in the fifth round.

When I went back into the library, everybody cheered. I hugged my mom, my dad and my brother, repeating the same phrase over and over.

We did it.

Sure enough, we turned toward the giant TV and saw my name flash on the screen. The Patriots had taken me with the No. 144 pick. There was more cheering from among the 150 or so friends and family, including aunts, uncles and cousins who had flown in from Texas and Hawaii. The moment was everything I had imagined.


I took a microphone and gave a special shout-out to my family and friends. I just told them it takes a village to raise a child and everyone there had a role in getting me to this day, so I wanted to thank them for being a part of my journey.

From there, the celebration kicked into high gear and I spent the next half hour or so taking photos with everyone in the room. I also exchanged congratulatory text messages with all the UCLA boys who got drafted before and after me, as well as those who signed as undrafted free agents or scored invitations to try to make a team through rookie mini-camp. Getting drafted or not isn’t important; the only thing that matters is ultimately making a team and sticking.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, my former college teammate who had been selected by the Cleveland Browns four picks before me, called to check in and reminisce about our five years together at UCLA. We were laughing and joking around and he was like, “Wow, you really went from D-line to O-line and got drafted, bro. That’s crazy.”

The whole thing really was surreal. I knew there was a chance the Patriots might pick me because they were one of the teams that flew me out to meet with them before the draft. I was honored they wanted me to be part of their organization given all the success they’ve had and the Super Bowls they have won under coach Belichick.


After the party ended, we headed to my grandmother’s home in Shoreview to tell stories and talk through everything — funny memories of me as a little kid and what it took for me to make it to this day, everyone so proud that here I was now on the verge of playing in the NFL.

I took a redeye flight out that night to Logan Airport in Boston so that I could meet with Patriots coaches and personnel the next day. Walking into Foxboro Stadium as part of the organization was awesome. I just kept reminding myself that as blessed as I felt, this was a business trip.

All my work the last few years — basically my whole life — had been leading up to this point and even though it felt really good, I knew the work had only begun. Now I’m a professional athlete and it’s time to get to work for real.

After all the meetings, I flew home later that day. Up next is rookie camp next week. I know I have to come in and earn my spot, do what needs to be done and what’s asked of me.


The goal of getting drafted is checked off the list and now it’s onto the next one, being a productive part of an NFL team. My livelihood depends on it. It’s time to get to work.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.