Staley Ready to Begin Third Season in San Francisco
Courtesy: San Francisco 49ers
Joe Staley was the first Chippewa to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Just six years ago, Joe Staley was a skinny tight end fresh out of Rockford High School catching passes at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

This week, he reports to his third preseason camp as a starting offensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers.

The arc of Staley’s career has been staggering. After playing in all 11 of CMU’s games as a tight end in 2003, Staley moved to right tackle in 2004 and started all 11 games. He moved to left tackle in 2005 and started the final 25 games of his collegiate career there, earning All-Mid-American Conference first team honors in 2006.

After helping lead CMU to a MAC championship as a senior, he became just the fifth Chippewa to play in the Senior Bowl and the first to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Staley played every offensive snap as a rookie for the 49ers in 2007 and again started every game in 2008.

Along the way he has been immortalized as a bobblehead, scored his first professional touchdown and selected to host “The Joe Show” on the 49ers’ official Web site.

“I couldn’t have imagined as a freshman in college that this was how my life would end up,” Staley said. “I have played with a lot of great guys, had a lot of great coaches and put in a lot of hard work, and all of that has helped me to get where I am now.”

Staley’s athleticism—he was an all-state sprinter in high school—and versatility—he played right tackle as a rookie in San Francisco before moving to left tackle in 2008—make him a rare and highly valued commodity in the NFL. The 49ers showed Staley exactly how valued he was during the offseason, signing him to a six-year contract extension through 2017.

“It’s definitely good to be wanted,” Staley said. “They told me they want me to be one of the building blocks of the franchise. I’m excited to be in California, and I really believe in our coaching staff. One of my goals was to spend my entire career in the same place.”

The instant success and early rewards have not caused the former Chippewa to lose perspective, however.

“You can never get complacent,” he said. “You continually have to improve on everything and always try to find the weaknesses in your own game, and you have to be self-motivated to be successful.

“The thing I’ve improved on the most has been my mental understanding of the game. In the NFL the game is so mental and everybody is so well-prepared.”

Despite having played just two full seasons, Staley already has stepped into a leadership role in the 49ers’ locker room.

“I’ve always been pretty vocal,” he said. “We have guys on our team that have been in the league for a while, and they obviously are looked at as being leaders. But I feel like the guys respond to me, and if I have something to say I’m going to say it. I think I play with a lot of fire and passion, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the league for 10 years or two—everybody has the same goal, which is winning games.”

Staley is one of four former Chippewas on NFL rosters, joining Eric Ghiaciuc (Kansas City), Cullen Jenkins (Green Bay), Tory Humphrey (Green Bay). Two other former Chippewas—receiver Obed Cétoute and offensive lineman Greg Wojt—are playing in the Canadian Football League. CMU has had at least one player drafted by the NFL or CFL every year since 2005.

San Francisco opens the 2009 season at defending NFC champion Arizona on Sept. 13. The 49ers will make two primetime national television appearances in 2009: Thursday, Nov. 12 against Chicago on NFL Network and Monday, Dec. 14 against Arizona on Monday Night Football on ESPN.