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Disney star’s dad is a ‘secret weapon’ for Rays

Mark Parker



Eliana Su'a,14, is the star of the new Disney original series "Pretty Freekin Scary." Her dad, Justin Su'a, is the head of mental performance for the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo provided.

Growing up in the public eye is notoriously challenging for child actors; however, most cannot say that their dad is the head of mental performance for a Major League Baseball team.

The Tampa Bay Rays had someone intimately familiar with the team throw out Thursday night’s ceremonial first pitch. Eliana Su’a, 14, is the lead actress in the Disney Channel’s recently released original series, Pretty Freekin Scary.

Her dad, Justin Su’a, is a mental performance coach for the American League-leading Rays. When Eliana – who also starred in Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – is not away filming, she lives at home with her parents and siblings in Bradenton.

They gathered at Tropicana Field Thursday night to celebrate Eliana’s latest accomplishment. She expressed gratitude for the moment and the opportunity to represent her “favorite baseball team.”

“I was able to do what I love for the last eight months, which is a dream come true,” Eliana said. “I’m just so grateful.”

After helping mentally prepare the Rays for a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, part of a grueling 162-game season, Justin Su’a emerged from the locker room to offer his perspective on a unique night.

“It’s a different feel, obviously,” Su’a said. “It’s a different way of ‘bring your daughter to work day.’”

From left: Mya Su’a; Justin Su’a, head of mental performance; Eliana Su’a; star pitcher Tyler Glasnow; and Eliana’s mother, Melissa Su’a. Photo by Mark Parker.

Eliana caught the acting bug at 8, and her breakout role came about two years later in 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the blockbuster “catapulted her into the spotlight alongside A-list stars” like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham.

She then landed a reoccurring role in Fox’s 9-1-1 before her first stint as a leading performer. Pretty Freekin Scary premiered June 15 on the Disney Channel and Disney +, and Eliana stars as Frankie Ripp, also 14.

The character had a seemingly ideal life until she fell into a manhole while texting and died. However, a deal with the Grim Reaper allowed Frankie to return to the land of the living with two teenage “Underworld guardians,” Pretty and Scary.

Teen comedy ensues as Frankie attempts to navigate life as a middle school student with her two new companions and “Underworld powers.” Pretty Freekin Scary boasts an 89% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, with viewers calling it “heartwarming” and “fun and creative.”

The first season features 14 episodes, and Eliana is optimistic that Disney will renew the series this month. While she couldn’t provide details, Eliana said she also has “a couple of projects in the air” for this year and next.

Her older sister Mya, 17, said the family realized Eliana’s passion for acting at a young age and knew she would perfect her craft. Brother Jarome, 15, called it “incredible” to see Eliana’s dreams come to fruition after years of hard work and sacrifice.

Jarome added that standing on Tropicana Field’s turf together represented a full-circle moment for the family. “Dad does what he does, Eli does what she does, and we’re all here to be able to celebrate this moment with the first pitch; it’s awesome,” he said.

From left: Tyler Glasnow and Jarome, Melissa, Eliana, Mya and Justin Su’a. Photo provided.

Dad’s influence

Eliana said she enjoys watching her father help the Rays and uses some of his mental performance techniques on set. She noted that spending nine months away from her family “constantly working” in California was mentally taxing.

Eliana said her dad’s guidance helps her focus and keeps her grounded. She gleefully relayed that her co-stars also appreciated his coaching.

“He did a class on set and helped my castmates, which is really cool,” Eliana added. “I think it’s really helpful to know how to control your mind … and it’s hard, but he’s really good at knowing how to help you with that.

“It’s a secret weapon for the Rays.”

Su’a said he develops processes for players to help them become “the best version of themselves.” Those revolve around positivity, learning from failures and quieting the mental background noise to focus on the task at hand.

Eliana Su’a (right) with a costar on the set of Pretty Freekin Scary. Photo provided.

Su’a noted that he and his wife, Melissa, do their best to contextualize failures and success and let Eliana know that “acting is what she does; it doesn’t define who she is.”

“To be able to put yourself in the right mindset and have the right approach to be the best you can be at that moment – I think that can definitely become a competitive advantage,” Su’a said. “How to measure that, I don’t know for sure. How much does it matter? I don’t know for sure. But I think you can argue that it can help.”

Eliana’s parental influence was apparent. Before Su’a emerged from the locker room, she encouraged people to relentlessly pursue what they love and embrace the missteps along the way.

“Your failures are where you learn the most; your failures are what build you as a person,” Eliana said. “So, be OK with failure and work as hard as you can if you really love and are passionate about something.”



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