UH defensive tackle Matt Faga, front, has lost about 100 pounds and will start his first game as a Warrior this weekend.

Trimmed-down Faga
leads new-look defense

The senior will make his first start
for UH against Florida Atlantic

Three years and 100 pounds ago, Matt Faga was known as "Rocky."

The Hawaii senior defensive tackle doesn't care for the name. It's what they called him at Fresno City College, where he played for two years before returning to the islands.

Florida Atlantic
at Hawaii

When: Tomorrow, 6:05 p.m.

Where: Aloha Stadium

Tickets: $20 sideline, $18 south end zone, $10 north end zone (adult), $9 north end zone (senior citizens/age 4-high school), UH students free. Available at Aloha Stadium, Stan Sheriff Center, UH Campus Center, RainBowtique at Ward Centre, and Windward Community College's OCET Office. Or call 808-944-2697 or hawaiiathletics.com on the Internet.

TV: KFVE (Channel 5), delay at 10 p.m., rebroadcast Sunday at 9 a.m. Also available live on pay-per-view. Call 625-8100 on Oahu or (808) 643-2337 on neighbor islands.

Radio: Live, KKEA, 1420-AM.

Parking: Gates open at 2:30 p.m. Parking is $5. Alternate parking at Leeward Community College, Kam Drive-In and Radford High School.

Traffic advisory: 1420-AM is the official traffic advisory station and provides updates before each home game.

Bus: Roberts Hawaii School Bus will run shuttles to and from the stadium, with pick-ups at several locations. Call 832-4886 for information and reservations.

"When I first went to Fresno, our D-line coach called out 'Matt,' and about six of us turned around," Faga said. "He gave me the name Rocky. I prefer Matt. In Fresno there were about 16 Matts."

The funny thing is, Faga is much more rock-like at 6-feet-2 and a relatively svelte 317 pounds than he ever was at Fresno -- or last fall, in his first season of eligibility at UH. And he worked as hard as the movie boxer "Rocky" to get into real football shape.

Faga, who played just a few downs in four games last year, makes his first start for the Warriors tomorrow, against Florida Atlantic.

He's one of five defensive players starting their first game in UH's revamped defense. The Kaimuki graduate said he's ready, but admits being nervous.

"I have butterflies going into this game, and I don't really know what to expect," Faga said.

Coach June Jones thinks Faga will do fine. He gushes about many of his players, but it's obvious Faga falls into a special category.

"He's been a real leader," Jones said. "Worked probably harder than anyone we've had. I know he'll be real excited to get some game time because he's put in so much to get to this point."

Faga has changed more than his body, defensive line coach Vantz Singletary said.

"Matt is starting to be more vocal. He's really communicating with all the guys up front. He's leading in his own little way. Normally guys at the tackle position don't speak out. We've got two guys doing it."

The other tackle is senior Lui Fuga, whom Faga credits for helping him get in shape and improve his technique.

"And he took me on the side and helped me. I learned that at 400 pounds you really can't move. You can hold the point, but you can't get to the ball. We have to be fast to the ball. React faster. That's what I'm trying to do."

The biggest influence in Faga's life is his grandmother, So'olepu Moi.

"She did the most for me growing up in Palolo," Faga said. "She's one of the main reasons I'm working hard, so I can have a chance to get into the NFL and put her in a nice house."

Singletary said pro football is not out of Faga's reach, as long as he continues on his current path.

"Not at 400 pounds. They're cutting guys in the NFL because of too much weight, the risk factor," Singletary said. "He has a chance at his weight now. He just has to go out and execute, make plays. Scouts are already starting to ask about him, because there aren't enough big guys. And here's a guy who's athletic, can move, he's smart and has a personality. I saw his challenges and struggles, remember taking him down to the scale when he didn't believe he weighed 400. He's come a long way."

Faga thought about staying at Fresno after junior college and playing for Fresno State.

"It was a tough decision. Being away from home was a new beginning, an experience for me. But I'd rather play here in front of my family, especially my grandmother," he said.

Faga also enjoys talking to students at elementary schools, especially in underprivileged areas.

"I just try to tell them about my experiences, that I came from a place like them," he said.

Faga's weight loss is largely due to the Atkins Diet, which denies him his favorite food, rice.

He dreams of scoops and scoops of rice. Mounds of it.

"I'll tell you this: If I have a good game, I'm going to eat some rice," Faga said.

Then he won't have another serving until Sept. 18 -- when the Warriors play at Rice.

University of Hawaii Athletics



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