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Friday, November 27, 2009

Fonoti craves big finish

For all of the ground Fetaiagogo Fonoti has covered over the past five years, it's the few remaining steps that hold his attention.

"Time's running out and I still have a lot to do," Fonoti said as Hawaii approaches its pivotal final homestand.

With the defensive end's journey with the Warriors winding down, he's part of a Hawaii senior class working to extend the campaign deeper into the holiday season.

The Warriors (5-6) face Navy (8-3) tomorrow at Aloha Stadium needing a win to maintain hope of earning a berth in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

A loss means next week's regular-season finale against Wisconsin will signal the end of the road.

Whenever the end comes, it'll conclude a five-year run that often tested and ultimately strengthened Fonoti's resolve.

Having overcome academic issues early in his career, Fonoti established himself as a playmaker off the edge the last two seasons, as a reserve in 2007 and a starter last fall.

His senior season strayed from the script when he was carted from a hushed practice field with a hyperextended knee the week of the season opener. The injury sidelined him for the first three games of the season, and he returned against Louisiana Tech at less than full strength.

"But now he's full speed and I really expect him in these next games to really jump off the screen," UH head coach Greg McMackin said.

Fonoti didn't have the chance to finish his high school career on the field, his final year cut short by a fractured fibula.

Still, his potential convinced then-UH head coach June Jones to sign him in 2005 and he earned playing time at outside linebacker in Jerry Glanville's 3-4 scheme and on special teams as a true freshman.

"He's kind of a physical freak," said assistant head coach George Lumpkin, who works with the Warriors' defensive ends. "It's like he never gets tired. He goes to the weight room now, but even when he wasn't he was really strong, probably one of the strongest players on the team. And he runs like a DB."

Academics led to him sitting out the 2006 season, and Fonoti had to work his way back into the program.

"It was a lesson learned; I made some mistakes when I got here," Fonoti said.

"A couple times I thought I was done playing football. But I just love playing. I love anything to do with sports. I kept pushing to get back to football."

When he returned, McMackin had taken over as defensive coordinator and turned Fonoti into a 4-3 defensive end for the Warriors' Sugar Bowl season in 2007. After recording three sacks coming off the bench, he moved into the starting group opposite David Veikune and made 62 total stops.

When linebacker Brashton Satele had season-ending shoulder surgery during fall camp, Fonoti was the lone full-time starter returning to the UH defense. That number dropped to zero when he was injured in practice in late August.

Even though the knee hampered his production, "He hasn't complained," Lumpkin said. "It's got to be really something serious for him to complain. He's a good guy to coach -- when you tell him something he does it."

The pain in his knee was rivaled by the angst of having to watch the first three games of the season. But he was able to stay upbeat through the trials of the season -- both individually and during the team's six-game losing streak -- to enter the Warriors' final homestand eager to capitalize on his remaining time as a Warrior.

"I have to take care of football and school and make sure everything works out," he said.

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