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Hufanga shares emotional rehab update, goal for 2024 return

Hufanga shares emotional rehab update, goal for 2024 return originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

It was like the first day of school for Talanoa Hufanga as the 49ers reported for mandatory minicamp this week.

After Hufanga sustained a heartbreaking knee injury that ended his 2023 season early, the football-obsessed All-Pro safety was all smiles during Day 2 of camp in Santa Clara -- just grateful to be back on the field with his guys in any capacity.

"I'm feeling great," Hufanga told reporters Wednesday. "I get a little eager out there. I'm super excited, it's fun. The days that I get to go out there and watch the practices, it's been a blessing. You see how much football truly means to you when you're away from it.

"It's everything to me. I truly do love it."

Hufanga tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in San Francisco's Week 11 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Nov. 19 at Levi's Stadium.

He missed the final seven regular-season games and then had to watch the 49ers' heart-racing run to Super Bowl LVIII, where they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime.

While Hufanga wishes he could have been suited up on the gridiron with his teammates down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs, he knew he still could impact the team from the sideline and ultimately was happy about his team's success.

"I think it would be a bad spot for me as a teammate if I wasn't happy for everyone," Hufanga said. "When we sat down at the beginning of the year, our goal was to go to the Super Bowl. Was it to win? Yes. Did we come up short? Yes. But it was a spot for me to learn and truly appreciate what it's like to give myself to the team as well as a leader. Learning, teaching, evolving.

"I wasn't there for the whole time because I did have my surgery and I was away from the team, but when I came back it was like, 'How can I be a bright light, a great resource of teaching guys and understanding different concepts?' But we came up short and our goal is to come back this year with a chip on our shoulder and win the big one."

Back in March, 49ers general manager John Lynch said Hufanga was rehabbing "extremely well" and "beating the timeline" during his recovery.

More than 10 weeks later, Hufanga provided more clarity on when he expects to return to action.

"Obviously, it's a give or take at any time, but the goal is to be ready by Week 1," he said. "The goal is to be in training camp, not the very beginning, but to ramp me up correctly so it's not just a throw you out to the wolves and 'good luck.'

"But trying to be smart with it, we've had plenty of discussions with the training staff and putting me in the best possible situation to succeed for myself and then try to help the team as well."

There still is a long way to go for Hufanga, but he'll continue to flash his bright smile throughout the process until he's back in the Red and Gold in 2024.

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