Oct. 15, 2013
By Brock Lewandowski, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
"Looking at that x-ray, I struggled to believe that was my foot. I asked them how long I would be out and I was thinking one week, two weeks. Just hearing the trainers hesitating to answer, it kind of put things into pe¬rspective. I really struggled with trying figure out what I was going to do next, knowing that was my true senior year."
That was the sobering reality for fifth-year senior right tackle Fou Fonoti when he shattered his fifth metatarsal during practice before the Notre Dame game last year. His journey back is as complex as the patterns that line his arms and torso, his life story branded in ink.
"I've pretty much gotten a tattoo for different chapters in my life," said Fonoti. "When I graduated from high school, I got my first one...Then the one on my left arm is the most recent one, the one I got for my injury. Each time I look at things, I know how far I've come to get where I am right now."
There was a physical aspect to his recovery, including well-spent time with the training staff doing mobility exercises like working with water resistance, but some part of his story brought him a new perspective and renewed strength for a truly final season.
"I was trying to have that breakout year and then I ended up going through that," said Fonoti, who started 11 games at right tackle his first year at Michigan State in 2011 after transferring from Cerritos College in California. "Through my injury, I was blessed with this second opportunity. I'm definitely thankful for that. It was definitely a blessing in disguise for me."
The mental challenge of recovery was one that Fou was ready to match thanks to his teammates and his family. He recognizes that without their support, he would not be able to take advantage of this opportunity.
"The one thing I had to do was I had to stay around the guys," noted Fonoti. "These are my brothers and each moment I was away from the team I went through a slight depression. When you have the one thing that you love taken away, you kind of struggle with understanding everything else.
"One thing that really helped me through was talking with my teammates and the coaches, just being with the team. Being with the team was huge for me."
This brotherhood lies not only in encouragement, but in selflessness.
"One of the things I'll always remember is when Joel Foreman gave up his starting spot for Arthur Ray Jr. in that opening season (2011 vs. Youngstown State)," recalled Fonoti. "Just seeing the selflessness that our team has and for a guy at that level to be able to do something like that was exciting to see.
"It was something small that set the tone for that year and gave me insight in what it truly means to be a Spartan, to sacrifice bigger things for other people."
Fou not only acknowledges the sacrifice that comes with the jersey, but is more than willing to pay it forward.
"For me, I just try to utilize all resources that I'm presented with and one of the things that I thought was huge is being able to go out into the community, communicate with others and meet some new faces," said Fonoti, who was nominated for the Allstate Good Works Team. "In my three years here, it's been one of my goals to do as much volunteer work as I possibly can.
"It gives me that breath of fresh air, not thinking about my daily struggles, about school or about football, just getting out there, building new relationships and understanding people's lives outside of football. The community service thing has definitely been a blessing for me in keeping me sane and building relationships outside of the program."
Fonoti has both learned from his teammates, his "brothers" as he calls them, and taught them a little about his Polynesian heritage.
"In my first year here, my first camp, the coaches were saying that the o-linemen do a dance for the annual corn hole tournament," he remembers. "So, I was thinking about something and Joel Foreman, one of the all-time greatest, was here and jokingly I said we should do the Haka. They all had seen it from rugby and said, `Let's do it.'
The Haka is a traditional dance performed by a group that involves rhythmic stomping and shouting.
"It was definitely an honor to see my brothers willing to take in what I was willing to share," Fonoti said. "It was definitely an experience for me and I had a lot of fun with it."
Fou also thanks his family for his Christian upbringing and the role his faith played in his recovery.
"With my grandfather being a pastor and my dad a deacon, when it all comes down to it, you need to make sure your faith is strong," said Fonoti. "They've passed onto me to understand where I'm going, what it takes and to always put God first."
During his recovery, he rested on his life verse, Jeremiah 29:11, which says "For I know the plans I have for you, ... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
His family also contributed to the way he carries himself every day.
"I think my family has passed on how we go about ourselves," remarked Fonoti, "treating others with a great amount of respect, and understanding that family is important."
While his family and brothers on the team helped him back to the game, Fou said he still has a year to show everyone why he plays the game.
"Love. I want everyone to know that I love the game. I love my school. I love my team. Each day, when I go out there, I try to give it all I can.
"I may not be the strongest, the biggest or the fastest, but that when it comes to effort, I am willing to give it all and sacrifice for my brothers and my team. I want them to see someone who truly loves what he does and (whom) he does it for."
GETTING TO KNOW Fou Fonoti
What is your favorite home-cooked meal?
"Hamburger Helper - the cheeseburger macaroni one. That one is definitely amazing right there."
What is the weirdest question you've gotten about your hair?
"Some people ask, `is it real?' When I get asked that, I think there's a punch line and that it's a joke, but they're definitely serious."
What is your favorite song right now?
"There's this Polynesian band back home called Common Kings. I'm definitely in Polynesian, kick-back, reggae-type stuff. I'll go with their new song called `Sickness.'"
What is your favorite cop show as a criminal justice major?
"Criminal Minds is definitely exciting. It always keeps you on-edge."
This feature was originally published in the Oct. 12 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.