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Friday, May 08, 2009

Lions add 'God' to roster with Toniu Fonoti

With the hiring of Scott Linehan, the Detroit Lions got "Jesus" on their side.

But they're not stopping there. After an 0-16 season, the team has to pull out all the stops. So they're going straight to the Big Man himself.

The Lions signed guard Toniu Fonoti, a man so physically imposing and dominant, his teammates at Nebraska nicknamed him "God."

While he's listed at 6-feet-4, 340 pounds, let's just say that he's rarely made that weight.

Though it's from 2001 – yes, I said 2001 – an ESPN Magazine profile of Fonoti, whose real name is Toniuolevaiavea (ta-NOO-la-VAY-a-VAY-a) Satele Fonoti, reveals some interesting things about the big Samoan. I recommend reading the whole article.

ESPN The Magazine, November 26, 2001: As a sophomore last season, Fonoti set the school record with 155 pancake blocks, inspiring awestruck teammates to nickname him God. It's a mark he's already passed this fall. And if his 20 pancakes against Baylor on Oct. 13 and his 32 against Texas Tech a week later aren't enough to re-circuit your brain, consider this: The greatest lineman in Nebraska history and the most devastating force in college football is just 19 years old.
Fonoti was raised to be intense by a father who is royalty on The Rock. Though small, at least by Samoan standards, Fonoti Satele Fonoti stands 5'11" and weighs maybe 250 pounds. But the locals say he is one of the toughest men the islands have ever seen, which is why the elders named him chief of Fonoti, one of the biggest villages in American Somoa.
Whether he could help it or not, Fonoti Fonoti instilled -- and beat -- that roughneck spirit into Toniu. Once, when Toniu was 6, he disobeyed his dad by playing on a trampoline. He tried one back flip, then another and another. Out of control, Toniu lost balance and banged his skull on the metal frame. Blood poured from his forehead, but tough little Toniu never cried -- at least not until his father beat the boy with a broom when he realized a trip to the hospital was necessary. "My dad was huge into punishment," Toniu says. "I got hit every day. His work belt was the worst, man. It was a big thick leather one. It went on until I was old enough to know the meaning behind it." Says Fonoti Fonoti, "Toniu was a rough kid. I kind of used whatever I had at the time." The Fonotis moved to Hawaii when Toniu was 10, after his father took a job with a construction company. Toniu soon developed the body of an NFL nose tackle -- and the pent-up ferocity of a trained Rottweiler. Says his mom, Emma, "Toniuolevaiavea was so competitive and impatient. And he had such a tolerance for pain. He was just like his father."

Fonoti was drafted in 2002 by the San Diego Chargers, and he stayed there until 2006. But he only started for two of those four years. In his rookie season, he started 14 of the 15 games he played in. He started all 16 games in 2004.

Other than that, Fonoti has been mostly a stop-gap player who has a lot of potential, but hasn't been able to truly tap into it, struggling with weight issues for much of his career.

He's got an interesting story, and maybe line coach George Yarno can finally bring out the beast, but it'll probably be tough for him to make the roster.

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