In the over 100 years of the National Football League, only four Hawaii-born players have ever earned All-Pro First-Team status with the most recent member of the elite fraternity being Waianae native DeForest Buckner.
The Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle joined Olin Kreutz, Max Unger, and Matt Blair after anchoring one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, posting 9.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 26 quarterback hits.
Those numbers more than lived up to the hype of the Colts trading their first round draft pick this past off-season in a trade to get Buckner from the 49ers fresh off of a Super Bowl run with San Francisco in his fourth NFL season.
According to the Punahou graduate 2020 was a year that he will never forget. Having gone through the experience of being traded and re-signed, along with navigating through a pandemic on the road to the playoffs all while becoming a father for the first time.
“Yeah, the past twelve months has probably been one of the longest years of my life for sure,” Buckner told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello. “All the change from changing from teams and getting traded to Indianapolis from San Francisco, having to uproot me and my family’s entire lives going cross-country in the middle of my wife being pregnant and then delivering our first born. It’s been a hectic year but everything, all the sacrifices that we made as a family, everything has paid off in the long end.”
Buckner’s season also provides a little bit of history in regards to his standing with other Hawaii born players to have an All-Pro season, where to the surprise of many he is the only of the foursome to not be selected as a Pro Bowler in the same season. A statistic that makes it that much easier for Buckner to get over after the initial frustration of being left out despite quick push-back from players, fans, coaches, and his organization alike.
“I’ve been dealing with the whole Pro Bowl situation the past couple of years now and little things like that it doesn’t determine the type of player that I am,” said Buckner. “I know my abilities, I trust in myself and I always bet on myself. In the long end all the hard work will pay off and I know that. The first team All-Pro, I ended up getting it and it made it even sweeter to get that honor and I just got to keep my head down and keep grinding. That’s what I do every single year and I just got to do it year in and year out.”
For the time being, Buckner will enjoy the off-season with his wife and newborn son before getting back to the grind of preparing for his second season with the Colts. A competitor that is rarely satisfied, Buckner does acknowledge that he is pleased with the foundation that has been set in Indianapolis both personally and as a team.
“I’m definitely proud with the work that I put forward for my first year being in Indianapolis. I had to gain the trust from my teammates, the organization, also the fan base. Obviously, they sacrificed a lot bringing me here and I know that. I wanted to return the favor. Being my first year, I knew my abilities. I always bet on myself. That’s what got me here today, and to be able to set that strong foundation from this past year, gaining that first team all-pro honors and being an impact on the defense, it’s definitely groundwork that I wanted to lay for my first year being here,” said Buckner. “Especially with the short amount of time that I had with the whole dealing with COVID-19 and barely being able to see each other during the summer and things like that, I kind of I guess adjusted to the circumstances and I’m definitely proud of the first year I put down but definitely never satisfied and I’m ready to go back to work this offseason and come back even better.”
Buckner has four years remaining on his current contract with the Colts which will pay him over $20-million annually.