Ask longtime, knowledgeable Cal Poly football fans to name the former Mustang who went on to have the best career as an NFL player, and you’ll likely get one response more than others: Mel Kaufman.
Kaufman, who died at 50 of acute pancreatitis Feb. 7 in his Santa Margarita home, starred as a linebacker on Cal Poly’s 1980 Division II national championship team.
The following year, he began an eight-year run playing for the Washington Redskins, winning Super Bowls XVII and XXII and reaching Super Bowl XVIII.
Playing for the Redskins, Kaufman compiled 18.5 sacks and seven interceptions, returning one 70 yards for a touchdown in 1983. The 6-foot-2, 221-pounder also recovered five fumbles, returning one for a score, also in 1983.
His fourth-quarter interception against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1982 NFC Championship Game was pivotal in lifting the Redskins to Super Bowl XVII.
After his playing career, Kaufman served as a scout for the Redskins for nearly a decade, and worked as the Redskins’ director of a minority internship program.
Soon after, he embarked upon a five-year stint as a mental health counselor and coach at Masada High in Gardena for at-risk teens through 2005.
Kaufman also served on the board of directors for the local chapter of the American Lung Association and was a speaker to children and adults on behalf of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. military.
He returned to Cal Poly prior to the start of the 2008 season, spending a year as the program’s linebackers coach. After his passing, first-year Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh started the Mel Kaufman Award, given annually to the Cal Poly player who most exemplifies Kaufman’s virtues off the field.