Hometown Report

Fanaika’s success for LSU is music to ex-Florin coach’s ears

LSU guard Fehoko Fanaika (69) hugs running back Kenny Hilliard (27) during an Aug. 30 victory over Wisconsin.
LSU guard Fehoko Fanaika (69) hugs running back Kenny Hilliard (27) during an Aug. 30 victory over Wisconsin. The Associated Press

Fehoko Fanaika used to cast quite an imposing figure in the middle of Florin High School’s band.

When the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder put all of his air into his trumpet, you could seemingly hear it across county lines.

Mike Morales was the Florin coach in 2006 when he caught a glimpse of Fanaika as a freshman. He convinced Fanaika to try football, insisting it would be good for his spirit and his body. Morales told Fanaika that with conditioning and commitment, he could reap rewards to last a lifetime, perhaps even become a scholarship athlete.

Now a teacher and an assistant football coach at Antelope High, Morales still beams at the thought of his musician turned player. Now 6-6 and 330 pounds, Fanaika is a senior offensive guard for LSU, which is coming off a 10-7 victory Saturday over Mississippi. At the time, the Rebels were ranked No. 3, and the Tigers were No. 24. They are now No. 7 and No. 16, respectively.

“Great to see,” Morales said, marveling at how Fanaika went from timid to tough. “He took a shot to the sternum in his first time in pads and almost quit. He persevered, though. He loved the family atmosphere we developed at Florin, and he had other Tongans on the team that he was able to relate to, so that made it more enjoyable.

“Then he became a weight-room junkie, and his size and potential were outstanding.”

Fanaika attended College of San Mateo, where he emerged as a two-year starter and All-American. He became the first Tongan to accept a football scholarship to LSU.

Fanaika still embraces music, a release from the rigors of football. He dabbles on the guitar, piano, trumpet and ukulele. He said he gained his gift of music from his father.

“He gave me everything I know about music,” Fanaika said. “I love the nice, mellow sounds. I can play music forever.”

Fanaika earlier this month was presented with the Southeastern Conference Community Service Team Player of the Week honor. On track to graduate next spring with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, Fanaika is involved in the Big Buddy mentorship program with youths. He implores kids to get involved in sports and music.

Sperbeck surge

Thomas Sperbeck played quarterback at Jesuit, worked out for college programs as a wide receiver and officially has arrived for Boise State.

The sophomore had no catches in his first four games this season but has pulled in 17 for 299 yards in his past four games, including six receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos’ 55-30 victory Friday over BYU.

“(Sperbeck’s) a good football player,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said after the game. “He needed opportunities, and when he gets them, he’s taken advantage. For him to have this type of game, I don’t think it’s a surprise for anyone. I know it’s not for him.”

Sperbeck still has the good arm, too. Against Fresno State on Oct. 17, Sperbeck completed two passes for 38 yards and a touchdown on trick plays in a 37-27 victory.

Beavers rolling

State No. 1 American River College beat visiting Feather River 44-8 Saturday in NorCal Conference play to improve to 7-0.

Peyton Wilfley stepped in admirably for injured starting quarterback Tanner Trosin (ankle) late in the first quarter, running for a touchdown and hitting Troy Knox for another. Casey Lambert ran for two scores and Deon Ransom for one. Scott Malcom returned an interception 100 yards for the Beavers, who are ranked third nationally by JCGridwire.com and play at Sierra on Saturday at 1 p.m. Trosin is day-to-day.

Cal Poly uprising

Thanks partly to the defensive efforts of three Sacramento-area products, Cal Poly beat visiting Montana 41-21 Saturday for its fourth consecutive victory as it pursues a Big Sky Conference championship.

Starting linebackers Josh Letuligasenoa (Elk Grove) and Burton De Koning (Folsom) combined for six tackles, and starting defensive tackle Marcus Paige-Allen (Sheldon) had two.

Cal Poly (5-3 overall) is 4-1 in the Big Sky, tied for second with Eastern Washington behind Montana State (4-0).

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

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