Wednesday, October 2, 2002


system wins over
Kahuku alum

Fonoti calls the Chargers coach
one of the "greatest" he's seen

By Nick Abramo

Don't ever tell Toniu Fonoti that Marty Schottenheimer isn't a very good coach.

San Diego Chargers guard Toniu Fonoti has struggled with a shoulder injury this season. The rookie has started two games.

Schottenheimer has a reputation -- deserved or not -- as someone who is too tough on his players, but Fonoti, San Diego's second-round draft pick, ranks the Chargers coach high.

"I can't say enough good things about this man," Fonoti said. "He does his job and he does it well and he's probably one of the greatest coaches I've ever been associated with and I'm grateful to be able to play under him."

Fonoti, who played at Kahuku High School and Nebraska, is recovering from a shoulder injury that limited his playing time. After being used in a substitute role the previous two games, he returned to the starting lineup last Sunday as the surprising Chargers improved to 4-0 with a victory over defending Super Bowl champion New England.

The 6-foot-4, 349-pound rookie guard isn't the only one buying into Schottenheimer's system. Linebacker Junior Seau, the team's on-field leader, is a true believer in the new coach, who went 8-8 after a rocky start with Washington a year ago.

"And what Junior says is what it is," said Fonoti, who is still feeling his way around his new surroundings with the Chargers and in the NFL.

"I'm getting used to the pace, and I've improved, but there's still more to improve on. I still have got to be able to push myself to do more."

Fonoti looks at his role in simple terms -- "open up holes for (running back) LaDainian (Tomlinson) and give some time for (quarterback) Drew (Brees)."

Schottenheimer is fully aware of Fonoti's potential.

"He has made good progress, but it's a very difficult transition from college football to the National Football League," Schottenheimer said. "Particularly if you're playing the offensive line. Two steps forward, one back is the progress that has been made. The injury has set him back a little, but he's going to be a good, solid player. I have no doubt about that.

"He's so big. He's very physically imposing. He's got great body strength and mass, and he can move people around with his power."

Fonoti is thrilled with the way the Chargers are playing.

"Our offense is great," he said. "And we've got a good group of guys that make up the offensive line. I knew back in the mini-camps what the O-line was going to be like, just watching guys like (tackle) Vaughn Parker, (guard) Bob Hallen and (center) Cory Raymer.

"They're something to see, and I've seen a lot of good lines, but watching these guys is something else."

Offense is something the Chargers have been working on for years, having had a solid defense led by Seau for many seasons.

Fonoti, Seau, Tomlinson, Brees and the rest of the Chargers are trying to get to the playoffs to remind the rest of the league that Schottenheimer, who led Cleveland and Kansas City to numerous winning seasons and playoff berths, is a good coach.

The Chargers are also trying to avoid what happened a year ago, before Fonoti arrived, when they started 5-2 and lost their last nine games.

A critical AFC West divisional test looms this Sunday at Denver.

For Fonoti, who had a brilliant college career for the Cornhuskers, all systems are go as he and his big frame blast off into the future.

"I'm so gung-ho about this pro team that I've forgotten about college and all of that," he said. "Right now, all I'm thinking about is our (fifth) game."

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