Unheralded WR Seyi Ajirotutu: 'I can play'

SAN DIEGO -- His name is pronounced SHAY-ee ah-ZHIR-uh-tutu. But San Diego receiver Seyi Ajirotutu will just shrug and smile when others mispronounce his name, including a host of national TV personalities over the weekend.

Players and coaches call him “Tutu”, which rolls easier off the tongue.

So what tongue-tied TV host stumbled the most on his unique last name?

“[Chris] Berman,” he said. “There were a couple others, but it’s all right. They’ve just got to read the manual and you’ll be all right. It’s a little challenging seeing nine letters in a last name. It’s OK. It’s happened since I was in kindergarten.”

Ajirotutu is a popular interview subject this week after he hauled in the 26-yard game-winning touchdown against Kansas City. You can see a quiet intensity in Ajirotutu’s face as the fourth-year wideout relegated to playing mostly special teams ponders the question: Is he a guy who can stretch the field?

“I feel like I can play,” he said. “I feel like I can stretch it. I feel like I can do whatever they ask me to do. I can play.”

Ajirotutu signed with the Chargers during training camp, the 26-year-old hasn’t received much of an opportunity to prove he can be an impact player on the field.

But his reps likely will increase after making back-to-back impact plays for the Chargers. With slot receiver Eddie Royal unavailable due to a chest injury, Ajirotutu subbed in and did not miss a beat in terms of the playbook, catching a 26-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers on a fade route to seal a 41-38 win for the Chargers.

Two weeks ago with Keenan Allen out nursing a knee injury at the end of the game, Ajirotutu was called into duty again, catching back-to-back passes over the middle of the field to help San Diego move into scoring position against Miami. But that San Diego rally fell short, and the Chargers lost 20-16 to the Dolphins.

One thing Ajirotutu proved during both those late-game situations is that the moment is never too big for him.

“He’s a pro,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said of Ajirotutu. “But more importantly, when his opportunities have come, he’s stepped up and made plays. And that’s what this league is all about. So I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tutu.”

At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Ajirotutu has the prototypical size the Chargers are looking for in a big receiver. He wasn’t exactly a speedster coming out of Fresno State, running a 4.58-second time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. But he was productive for the Bulldogs, finishing with 129 career catches and 12 touchdowns.

Ajirotutu originally joined the Chargers in 2010 as an undrafted rookie from Fresno State. He’s played in 13 career games for the Chargers, and 14 for the Carolina Panthers in 2011. Last season, Ajirotutu played in three games with one start for San Diego, catching three passes for 45 yards. For his career, Ajirotutu has 17 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

Ajirotutu leads the team in special-teams tackles with nine. But he has just three receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown this season. Ajirotutu would like to see that change. And given another opportunity, he’ll be ready.

“I catch balls and work on the scout team,” he said. “I’m always working on my craft, and I’m ready to go.”