Fonoti a D-line delight


POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

John Fonoti knows the sensation of standing in the pocket with the pressure closing in around him.

He much prefers being on the other side of that arrangement.

“;I like hunting someone down and making big plays,”; Fonoti said.

Fonoti dabbled at quarterback during his high school career at Farrington, but now makes it his mission to punish passers as a Hawaii defensive end.

“;On the other side you can make big plays and score touchdowns,”; he said. “;But it feels better when you're chasing someone and hitting somebody.”;

Actually, Fonoti was able to reach the end zone last season on defense and is one of just two returning starters to the Warriors defense this spring, holding down a spot on the right side of the defensive front.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound senior is the Warriors' top returning tackler, finishing last season with 62 total stops while starting all 14 games. He was credited with 9 1/2 tackles for loss, including 3 1/2 sacks, and recovered three fumbles.

His familiarity playing offense came in handy in a win over Nevada last October when he scooped up a fumble and scored the first of Hawaii's two defensive touchdowns.

“;Last year he struggled at times as he adjusted to the speed of things and playing with technique and not playing street ball,”; defensive line coach Dave Aranda said. “;I thought the turning point was the Nevada game. John was a completely different player. If you look at (games against) Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Idaho, John really dominated a lot of times. We need him to be that type of player.”;

Aranda said Fonoti graded out the highest among the defensive linemen in yesterday's practice—the Warriors' first in pads this spring—as the senior now finds himself surrounded by familiar faces in new roles on the first-string defense.

Gone are mainstays David Veikune, Keala Watson, Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard off last year's defense.

Elliott Purcell, Vaughn Meatoga, Tuika Tufaga and R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane are among last year's reserves moving into spots left open by the departure of a deep senior class this spring.

“;It's part of the game and you have to learn to adjust,”; Fonoti said.

Aranda cited Fonoti's quick first step and “;strike in his hips”; among his natural attributes. But after graduating from Farrington in 2005, Fonoti tended to rely on the athletic ability that allowed him to play multiple positions in high school and earned him action in nine games as a true freshman. It wasn't until he was forced off the field that he began to build on his gifts.

He redshirted the 2006 season for academic reasons, and now sees benefits to the year away from football.

“;It actually helped me out,”; Fonoti said. “;When I came out of high school I didn't like the weight room at all. I didn't really lift. Brashton (Satele) always called me up, tried to wake me up and get me to work out in the early mornings.

“;That year I got a lot stronger in the weight room.”;

Fonoti returned in 2007 to claim a place in UH's defensive line rotation and the results of his work off the field are evident to those who line up across from him in practice.

“;He is such a good player. That man is strong and he's got every move in the book,”; UH left tackle Aaron Kia said.

“;I like going against him because he's got everything and it'll only make me better. If I get beat, of course I get frustrated, but I know he's getting me better.”;

Fonoti and Kia had a chance to get reacquainted on the field yesterday as the Warriors put the pads back on for the first time in spring practice.

Fonoti stopped a running back for a loss in the team period and although hitting quarterbacks remains strictly off limits for now, he's again enjoying the thrill of the hunt.

“;It was awesome,”; Fonoti said. “;I've been waiting for it, training for it all spring and it's finally here.”;