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With return to home state on horizon, Fonoti fired up for Rose Bowl




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Senior offensive tackle Fou Fonoti lines up during practice Aug. 3, 2013, at the practice field outside Duffy Daugherty Football Building. Fonoti and the Spartans are preparing to return to Fonoti’s home state to take on Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Julia Nagy/The State News



Fou Fonoti doesn’t want to be “that guy,” as in the one pestering teammates for extra tickets to the 100th Rose Bowl game. But in this case, he will.

The senior tackle and only native Californian on No. 4 MSU’s roster is looking to multiply his personal ticket allotment to accommodate a host of family and friends eager to see his Spartans take on No. 5 Stanford in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day.

Each MSU player is given six tickets to the game. When Fonoti scribbled a list of people interested in tickets, it totaled 85 names.

“That’s a huge number,” Fonoti said with a laugh, “and that’s not even counting extended family and people who just want to be there for the tailgate and be there just to be around that environment.”

Given the distance and cost of travel to the Rose Bowl, Fonoti’s teammates have been sympathetic to his cause and willing to help, he said, if they have unclaimed tickets.

The days leading up to the game will provide a clearer picture of Fonoti’s ticket situation, but he said he’s grateful for any extras he can snag, even if the number falls short of 85. The difficult part will be divvying up whatever amount of tickets he can get ahold of, he said.

“As much as I’m excited for me, I’m more excited for them just that they’re able to experience a game were I’m able to be with them and feel that love,” Fonoti said, adding it’s been three years since his entire family has been able to see him play in person.

He arrived in East Lansing before the 2011 season after spending two years at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., and became a full-time starter at right tackle by the fourth game after replacing Skyler Burkland, who suffered a season-ending injury the week before.

The storybook ending to Fonoti’s career nearly didn’t transpire, however, when he broke his foot before the third game of the 2012 season, ending what was then supposed to be his senior year. The injury turned out to be what Fonoti called a blessing in disguise, as he received a medical redshirt year that allowed him to return this season for one last shot at the Rose Bowl.

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio acknowledged the sacrifice Fonoti made when he committed to play for the Spartans, leaving behind family, his longtime girlfriend and the sunny California weather in the process.

Fonoti cited Dantonio’s personality and the family culture within the program as reasons he chose MSU against other offers, including UCLA, which plays its home games at the Rose Bowl. He’s been to the historic stadium twice before – once in the stands to watch a game featuring a former coach, and once on a recruiting trip for the Bruins.

“It’s an emotional thing. It’s an emotional thing for his family,” Dantonio said.

“It will be something that I think all of our players are going to really embrace for him.”

Reflecting on how his MSU tenure could have ended a year ago compared to how it will conclude on Jan. 1, Fonoti couldn’t help but repeatedly mention how excited he was for the opportunity.

The fact that the next time he returned to California he’d be playing in MSU’s first BCS game didn’t set in until the waning moments of the Dec. 7 Big Ten Championship Game, he said. When Dantonio and teammates were gathered at the podium for the trophy presentation, Fonoti sat Indian style about 30 yards away taking in the scene.

Growing up 40 minutes away from the Rose Bowl, Fonoti called it a dream come true to cap his career in his home state at one of the game’s most revered venues.

Opportunities to come home have been rare for Fonoti, and this trip will be especially sweet as he dons the Spartan uniform for the final time, looking to earn a school-record 13th victory.

“And I’ll get to see the sun for once, that’ll be nice,” he said.


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