Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Fonoti focused on national
title, not NFL


LINCOLN, Neb. >> The only certainty for Nebraska guard Toniu Fonoti right now is playing in the Rose Bowl.

Any decision on his future and whether it includes a senior season will wait until after the No. 4 Cornhuskers play top-ranked Miami on Jan. 3.

"I haven't even thought about it," Fonoti, a former Kahuku High School standout, said. "It's out there, but I'm mostly thinking about this game."

Nebraska lost an All-American lineman a year ago when center Dominic Raiola left after his junior season for the NFL. Like Raiola, Fonoti is a first-team All-American and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as a junior.

Raiola, a St. Louis School alumnus, was picked by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the draft.

Fonoti isn't sure yet whether he will follow Raiola's path to the NFL.

"I really don't have time to think about it," Fonoti said.

Fonoti, who is 6 foot 2, 360 pounds, and tackle Dave Volk anchored the left side of the offensive line as the only two returning starters. Fonoti and Volk helped the Huskers recover from the lack of experience quickly and Nebraska went on to lead the nation in rushing this season at 314.7 yards per game.

And without the line, quarterback Eric Crouch would not have won the Heisman Trophy.

Fonoti has started the past two seasons, and he played in every game in 1999 as a freshman. Redshirting was never really an option.

"He's a guy that didn't have to wait around to get strong. He had that part of the game with him," offensive line coach Milt Tenopir said. "He's come a long ways and he can continue to come. He's going to be an exceptionally good player down the road."

It's difficult to measure a lineman's individual accomplishments, but in the unofficial "pancake" block statistic, Fonoti is already Nebraska's all-time leader. A pancake occurs when a lineman flattens a defender, taking him out of the play and leaving him on his back. Fonoti has done it 379 times, including 32 against Texas Tech on Oct. 20.

"It's kind of satisfying. It tells people I'm doing what I need to do and that's one of the main goals," Fonoti said. "For an offensive lineman, that's kind of our yardage."

In three weeks, Fonoti and the linemen go up against the Hurricanes (11-0), who lead the nation in scoring defense and are sixth in total defense. While the Huskers' placement by the Bowl Championship Series was greatly disputed, the Hurricanes are a consensus No. 1.

"I think probably the biggest challenge is proving that we're one of the best teams in the nation," Fonoti said. "We just have to go out there and prove that we're supposed to be in there."

Paterno denies rumors: Joe Paterno was bound to hear the rumors: Now that he's broken Bear Bryant's record for wins, the Penn State coach was going to retire.

What he didn't expect was having to address the rumors even before his season-ending news conference.

"Sunday night I had two calls -- actually I had one call, but the guy told me he had had two calls -- that this was going to be a press conference to announce my retirement," said Paterno, who has no intention of leaving the game quite yet.

"I said, 'No. I'm going to announce that I'm applying for the Notre Dame job,"' Paterno joked.

While rumors of Paterno's retirement are as common as Christmas candies during the holiday recruiting season, it's hard to blame those who believed them this year.

Although still healthy and active -- during the season he even got into a three-point stance to show his players proper blocking and tackling technique -- Paterno will celebrate his 75th birthday on Friday.

The coach reached a major milestone with his 324th win on Oct. 27, a 29-27 victory over Ohio State, moving him past Bryant as the winningest coach in major college football.

Kinsey kicked off team: Troubled Mario Kinsey, who started seven games as a freshman quarterback for Kansas, was kicked off the team yesterday by new coach Mark Mangino.

"We will continue to support him in whatever ways are possible," Mangino said. "We wish him the best of luck."

Athletic department spokesman Doug Vance declined comment on the nature of Kinsey's violations.

Kinsey played in 10 games last season, completing 88 of 202 passes for 1,215 yards and seven touchdowns. He also rushed for 225 yards and three touchdowns.

Grossman staying at Florida: Quarterback Rex Grossman is coming back for his junior season at Florida. Backup Brock Berlin, also a sophomore, is almost certain he will transfer.

Grossman said last month he planned to stay, and he confirmed that again Monday.

Coach Steve Spurrier has given Berlin permission to look elsewhere.

Players say Holtz isn't leaving: Lou Holtz won't come out and say he's not interested in returning to Notre Dame, but his South Carolina players are certain the 64-year-old coach will stay with them.

Holtz gathered his team around him before Outback Bowl workouts yesterday and told them he was a Gamecock and wanted to build a championship team at South Carolina, members of the team said.

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