From The Vault: Filling his plate with 'pancakes'
"We have never had a kid as powerful" as Toniu Fonoti, says Milt Tenopir, Nebraska's offensive line coach the past 28 years. Fonoti is a 1999 Kahuku High graduate.
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A pancake block in football is one that puts your opponent on his back, "flat as a pancake."
It is the ultimate triumph in one-on-one combat for an offensive lineman. The best blockers might get eight or 10 a game.
Last Saturday, Nebraska guard Toniu Fonoti of Hau'ula (Kahuku '99) set a school record with 32 pancake blocks in a 41-31 victory over Texas Tech.
"It was pretty unbelievable," said tackle Dave Volk, who plays next to Fonoti on the Cornhuskers' left side. "It was pretty much every other play. That's unheard of."
Nebraska ran 78 offensive plays and Fonoti flattened his opponent on 40 percent of them.
Volk had a good game himself with 12 pancakes.
Milt Tenopir, Nebraska's offensive line coach the past 28 years, said, "We have never had a kid as powerful as (Fonoti); as strong, as big, with mobility for his size (listed at 6 feet 4, 340 pounds)."
That's an impressive statement when you consider that Nebraska has produced such NFL first-round picks as Dean Steinkuhler and Dave Rimington and currently has seven linemen playing in the NFL.
Last season, Fonoti set a school record as a sophomore when he averaged 14.1 pancakes a game. With 52 pancakes in his last two games, Fonoti is averaging 16 per game so far this season.
Technique, power and intensity are Fonoti's secret, coach Tenopir said.
"He has good lift, good body angle, excellent balance," Tenopir said. "He comes with force; he's not a one-shot guy, he's out there to finish you off."
Saturday's game against Texas Tech was tied 28-28 at halftime. Fonoti helped change the momentum with 10 pancake blocks on Nebraska's first 13 plays in the second half.
"He has an intensity about him that you can't teach," Tenopir said. "He gives us great effort on every play, and to us that's what a pancake block is; it's an effort block."
Fonoti explained the emotional high of flattening the man across from you: "It's an adrenaline rush for me, like a defensive end getting his first quarterback sack. It makes your blood flow for the rest of the game."
Fonoti's pancakes come on all kinds of blocks: cuts, angles, reaches, pulls, even pass blocks. "On three-step drops, we go out aggressively to make it look like a run," he said.
Against Baylor Oct. 13, Fonoti had 23 pancakes as Nebraska rushed for 641 yards, second most in school history, and four backs gained 100 yards or more.
Off the field, Fonoti is noted for being quiet and laid back. He speaks in a soft, well-mannered tone. Teammate Volk said, "off the field, he acts like any 19-year-old kid; he's quiet in a group, but he loosens up around his friends."
Once on the field, Fonoti said, "I focus on what I have to do. I become zeroed in on that and I forget the crowd and the world around me."
That focus has led to 306 pancake blocks in 2á seasons, only the fourth Husker to reach 300 and the fastest to do so (33 games). With a potential 19 games remaining in his Nebraska career, Fonoti is on track to obliterate the school record of 377, set by Outland Trophy winner Aaron Taylor in 1995-97.
The question is, will he play next season, or follow former teammate Dominic Raiola? Raiola, the center out of St. Louis School who entered the NFL draft after his junior year at Nebraska and was taken in the second round by the Detroit Lions.
"I've never really thought about it," Fonoti said. "I'm focused on what's going on right now. I'll probably think about it later on.
"I feel like I'm still the little kid on the team. I'm still learning."
Tenopir thinks Fonoti will not leave early for the draft because of his age (he will turn 20 four days after Thanksgiving) and because his family "is very adamant about him getting a degree." Fonoti's mother is a schoolteacher.
"With both my parents and my (four) siblings it (a degree) is important," Fonoti says. He is a communications studies major.
As a football player, student and a moral young man, coach Tenopir said, "You can't put it any other words: Toniu Fonoti is special."
EXTRA POINTS: Fonoti's full first name is Toniuolevaiavea. "I get called my whole name only when my mom and my sisters are mad at me," he said. Fonoti is among 26 players on the "Watch List" for the Outland Trophy, awarded to college football's outstanding interior lineman by the Football Writers Association. Hawai'i's Vince Manuwai also is on the Watch List ... Dominic Raiola was second to Fonoti in pancake blocks for Nebraska last year with 13.4 per game. Nebraska almost overlooked Fonoti in the recruiting process. The first tape he sent was mishandled and he was not on the Huskers' recruit list. His mother, Emma, called to ask why they weren't recruiting him and the Huskers took another look at the tape ...
Sophomore offensive guard Junior Tagoa'i (St. Louis '99) of Hau'ula is No. 3 on Nebraska's depth chart. He won All-Big 12 academic honors last year. Junior middle linebacker Tony Tata (St. Louis '98) has recently resumed practice after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament in spring practice ... Fonoti's brother, Taualai Fonoti, is starting middle linebacker for St. Louis School. Taualai also is senior class president ... No. 3 Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma play Saturday in a game billed as the "Game of the New Century," a play on the 1971 "Game of the Century" game between the Huskers and Sooners. It will be televised in Hawai'i at 6 a.m. on KITV (Oceanic Cable 6). Fonoti wears No. 77 and always plays left guard.