Wednesday, November 28, 2001
[ PREP FOOTBALL ]
IT'S hard to imagine a 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker being known as anyone's "little" brother. But in Taualai Fonoti's case, the moniker is almost unavoidable.
Taualai Fonoti steps out
of brother Tonius shadow
The younger sibling learned a lot
during their intense, but friendly
By Jason Kaneshiro
Fonoti's older brother, 6-foot-4, 340-pound Toniu, is recognized as one of the best college football players in the country as an offensive lineman at Nebraska.
But Taualai has made a name for himself in high school football circles this fall as the leader of the St. Louis defense.
"Sometimes I'm Toniu's little brother, and sometimes he's Taualai's older brother. It's both ways now," Fonoti said. "I know I've established myself. I know who I am and I have my own identity."
Fonoti will lead the Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion Crusaders against Kahuku on Friday in the finals of the Chevron State Football Championship at Aloha Stadium.
It seems appropriate that Fonoti would end his high school career against Kahuku, where Toniu was a standout offensive lineman, as the sibling rivalry between the brothers raged through their Hauula home throughout their childhood.
"We were just the biggest competitors," Taualai Fonoti said. "We competed against each other for even menial things like the last cookie or answering the telephone. And when he began to excel in football, then I tried to compete with him as well.
"So he's helped me better myself and he's helped me do the best that I can. I like to credit him with that competitive edge."
The rivalry has mellowed with age and Toniu, a junior offensive guard at Nebraska, has gone on to greatness in college.
He was named as a finalist for the Outland Trophy, honoring the nation's best lineman, yesterday. He was also a first team All-Big 12 Conference selection this season and was awarded first-team All-America honors by Football News last week.
While Toniu has excelled in college, Taualai Fonoti had to wait for his turn to shine at St. Louis.
Fonoti saw limited duty last season, backing up all-state linebacker Joseph Lobendahn. But he has taken advantage of his opportunity to start as a senior by racking up a team-high 68 tackles this season, 16 behind the line of scrimmage.
He also has two sacks, four fumble recoveries and an interception to his credit. He had a season-high of 13 tackles against San Clemente (Calif.) and Punahou.
"All good linebackers have that nose for the ball and he's definitely one of them," St. Louis defensive coordinator Delbert Tengan said. "He's very efficient. ... You don't see a whole lot of missed tackles or missed assignments. He's a very intelligent player."
Fonoti has picked up his game in the state playoffs, leading the Crusaders with eight tackles and two sacks and six quarterback hurries in last week's semifinal win against Kailua.
"The last couple of years he's really developed into a sound football player," St. Louis coach Cal Lee said. "He's our leading tackler on the field and our spiritual leader off the field. He's just a tremendous person to be around. He's got so much charisma."
Fonoti's intelligence extends beyond football as he carries a 3.9 grade point average while taking two advanced placement classes.
He is also a member of the school's speech and debate team, which went to the national finals in Louisiana last year, and is involved in the Life Team, which handles religious matters within the student body.
"He comes from a tremendous family," Lee said. "I have nothing but admiration for the job the parents have done with all their boys."
Fonoti's parents, Fonoti Satele-Fonoti and Emaline Fonoti, still reside in American Samoa but visit Hawaii often and will be in the stands for Friday's game.
And it was his parents who convinced Fonoti -- who lives with his sisters, Rochelle and Dionne, in the Punahou area -- to transfer to St. Louis after spending his freshman year at Kahuku.
"My parents have always taught me that in order to grow and to develop, you need to be exposed to challenges and opportunities," he said. "And what more of a challenge than coming to an all-boys, Catholic private school. It was just a way to find myself, develop who I am. ... I think I'm reaching my potential."
The third consecutive state championship showdown between St. Louis and Kahuku will bring Fonoti facemask to facemask with several childhood buddies.
He was a member of the Red Raider team that won the Oahu Interscholastic Association junior varsity championship before transferring to St. Louis as a sophomore. And after last year's state title game, Fonoti made it a point to congratulate the Red Raiders.
"I actually went to their sideline to go say hi to all my former classmates and teammates and friends," Fonoti said. "It really hasn't diminished my friendship with them."
Nor has the rivalry between the schools affected his relationship with his biggest rival and best friend.
"We talked about it ... and the really awesome thing (Toniu) said was, 'It doesn't matter because we're both Fonotis,' " Fonoti said. "He said, 'I may be a Red Raider and you may be a Crusader, but we're both Fonotis.' So I know he's going to be cheering for me. ... He'd better."
Hawaii School Web Sites