SANTA CLARA – DeForest Buckner grew up in Hawaii, on the west side of Oahu, thinking he and his small community comprised the only people on the planet.
He took on a leadership role in his family 10 years ago, at the age of 13, after a horrific motorcycle accident left his father, George, severely injured and in a medically induced coma for six months.
On the 49ers Insider Podcast, Buckner discusses his upbringing and how his father’s challenge to him to become a man at an early age proved to be a life-shaping experience.
Buckner gravitated toward sports and focused on football after also being a standout in basketball during high school. His laid-back nature has not prevented him from being an aggressive, dominant player at Oregon and, now, with the 49ers.
“Football is the main sport in Hawaii,” he said. “All my mom’s brothers played it. Everybody I know growing up played it. Everybody’s pretty relaxed, kick back, but when it comes to the field, it’s all ball.
“You play for the man next to you. It’s just a mentality, a switch that goes off. Once you put on the helmet and get between the lines, it’s by any means, I guess. You want to – especially being on the defensive side -- take the guy’s head off, whoever has the ball.”
The 49ers selected Buckner with the No. 7 overall pick of the 2016 draft. He played more snaps as a rookie than any defensive lineman in the NFL. This season, Buckner continues to look like a player who can be a centerpiece of the organization’s massive rebuilding project.
And with his improved and more-consistent play, the 49ers will undoubtedly look for him to grow into more of a leadership role.
“I’m not a big vocal person – a big hoo-rah guy,” Buckner said. “I like to show with my actions more than my words. I feel actions mean a lot more than words.
“I’ve been trying to be a lot more vocal to the guys and picking guys up and motivating guys, all of that stuff. I’m definitely going to try to be more vocal throughout the year and for the years to come.”