Levine Toilolo brings unusual size and unusual football connections to Detroit in his bid to make an impact on the Lions as a tight end.
The size is obvious – 6-8 and 268 pounds, making him the tallest and heaviest of the six tight ends on the Rocket Mortgage training camp roster who are competing for roles and playing time.
Toilolo stands out at his position. He's a full three inches taller than the next tallest tight ends on the roster. Michael Roberts, Sean McGrath and Luke Willson all are 6-5.
"You don't see a lot of them that big," veteran safety Glover Quin replied when asked what it's like to defend a tight end Toilolo's size.
"The size is something you can't teach. Somebody that big – definitely, a huge catching radius. Just a giant guy."
The tight end position has undergone an extreme makeover since the end of last season. Roberts, used primarily as a blocker last season as a rookie with only four catches – is the only tight end on the roster with a reception as a member of the Lions.
Toilolo played 79 of 80 games, with 57 starts, in five seasons with the Falcons after being drafted in the fourth round out of Stanford in 2013. He had only 74 catches, with a single-season high of 31 in 2014.
When Toilolo hit the free-agent market this year, he was attracted to the Lions by the opportunity and what he liked in his meeting with head coach Matt Patricia.
"It was just the culture," Toilolo said. "I came in and got to meet Coach P, and like his mindset and the culture here that he's trying to instill. As a tight end, the offense is extremely dynamic. We have a great group of guys.
"There's a lot of variety in there."
There's variety in his chain of football connections – with links from high school to the NFL that include family members.
In his family tree are two uncles who played for the Lions. Dan Saleaumua was drafted by the Lions in the seventh round in 1987. He played 13 seasons as a defensive lineman, with the first two as a Lion.
Edwin Mulitalo was a guard who played 10 seasons – eight with the Ravens, including a Super Bowl championship in the 2000 season, and the last two with the Lions.
Toilolo played at Helix High School in southern California. Among the stars it produced were quarterback Alex Smith, Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush (a Lion in 2013-14), and college and pro basketball legend Bill Walton.
At Stanford, Toilolo played under head coach Jim Harbaugh and caught passes from current Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. That started a chain of his connection with three of the NFL's most prolific passers – Luck in College, five seasons with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, and now Matthew Stafford with the Lions.
"Definitely, I've been blessed with the quarterbacks," Toilolo said. "Great leaders. Great competitors. Great teammates."
What might have been the most important connection for Toilolo in terms of developing his game was spending his rookie season in Atlanta with Tony Gonzalez, who ranks second all-time with 1,325 career receptions and is a lock to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019.
Gonzalez played basketball in college at Cal, and he passed on tips about footwork and body control that relate to the gridiron.
"You're just trying to pick his brain and absorb as much as you can," he said. "Not only was he great at giving me advice, but through his actions showing up each and every day and going through his routine.
"A true pro, Hall of Famer. One of the best to do it."