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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fonoti inspired mom

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

University of Hawai'i defensive end John Fonoti is finally living up to his football promise — an improvement rooted in the promise he made to himself.

"Everything I do," Fonoti said, "is for my mom. She's my motivation. She's my inspiration."

It is why when the Warriors practice under an unforgiving sun, the good son thinks of Fenuivao Fonoti, who is a two-time cancer survivor.

"I'm trying to be strong for her," John Fonoti said. "I hope she'll be OK. She's fighting it all. She's acting like nothing's happened."

Fonoti said his family moved to Hawai'i in 1992 after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived that. But in January 2005, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Fonoti said he learned of her illness two weeks before football prospects were allowed to sign national letters of intent.

"That's why I came over here (to UH) — because of my mom and (assistant) coach Ron (Lee)," Fonoti said. "He kept bugging me."

Fonoti was the wedge-buster on the kick-coverage unit as a freshman in 2005.

But last year Fonoti was forced to serve an academic redshirt after his grade-point average slipped below the team-mandated minimum. Fonoti remained on scholarship and was allowed to attend classes, but he was prohibited from practicing or participating in team meetings.

Fonoti and safety B.J. Fruean, who also was an academic redshirt, became friends. They trained together and were part of the same study group.

"We were in the same boat," Fruean said.

Fruean and other teammates, such as defensive tackle Michael Lafaele, offered support to Fonoti.

"We wanted to make sure he took care of his mom," Fruean said. "This is Hawai'i. Family comes first."

Lafaele added: "Whenever he needed a ride, we gave him one. We gave him moral support. We talked to him, made sure he went to class and did things academically."

Fonoti did well enough to be reinstated to the team.

"I tried to prove myself," Fonoti said. "When I messed up in school, everybody thought I was a failure. I'm glad to be back. I'm doing it for my mom."

Fonoti has impressed the coaches with his quickness and aggressiveness. Yesterday, he served as wedge-blocker on kick returns. He caught Briton Forester's pooch kick.

During one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive linemen, Fonoti twice threw a blocker to the ground.

"It doesn't seem like he ever left, not by the way he's been performing in practice," said George Lumpkin, who coaches the defensive ends. "He's working hard and doing what we ask him to do. He loves the game, loves to hit. He does have a motor. He plays hard. He picks up things pretty quick."

Fonoti said he looks forward to tomorrow's first day of the fall semester.

"I thank coach (June) Jones for the opportunity to come back to the team, to get my life straight," Fonoti said. "I want to thank my school mentors, the coaches, the staff. They were there for me. I don't want to let them down."

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