Tuesday, May 1, 2012
American Samoa native Fanene hopes to makes waves with the Patriots Former Bengal eager to bolster defensive line in New England
The population of the entire island is comparable to the capacity of Gillette Stadium, yet at last count there were approximately 30 players of Samoan descent suiting up in the NFL.
“Because they want it more,” Patriots defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene answered when asked why so many from American Samoa have made it in pro football. “Plus it’s not (so) much a small island that we don’t know football.”
The 6-foot-4, 292-pound product of Pago Pago (same hometown as one of the most popular players in Patriots history, Mosi Tatupu) has known football for the better part of his life, graduating from Tafuna High School to the College of the Canyons to Utah.
As a member of the Utes, Fanene developed into a seventh-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2005.
Seven years later, Fanene has relocated to New England, signing a three-year contract worth $12 million at the outset of the NFL’s free-agent period in March.
“When I first got the call from Bill (Patriots head coach Bill Belichick),” Fanene said after concluding an offseason training session at Gillette on Tuesday afternoon, “I was so excited I wanted to make a move and come out here.”
He arrives carrying the pride of his homeland, his story part of a “60 Minutes” segment on American Samoans that aired on CBS in 2010.
“It was a blessing,” Fanene said. “I didn’t expect ’60 Minutes,’ but my dad called me the next day and he told me about the program and he told me to be ready, they were going to be out the next week to talk to me about NFL players from American Samoa.
“I was surprised. I’ve always been blessed to do everything right and just to go back home and help my family, my parents, not just that, but be an example to the kids back home...”
The second oldest of 12 children who now range in age from 13 to 32, the 30-year-old Fanene has used his NFL earnings to build his parents, David and Anna Maria, a home on the island.
“They did a lot for me, too, so…,” said Fanene, his voice trailing off.
Fanene leaves Cincinnati having played in 71 games, starting 17, totaling 103 tackles, 131/2 sacks, four passes defensed, three fumble recoveries and an interception of a Matthew Stafford pass he returned 45 yards for a touchdown in a 23-13 win over Detroit in 2009.
Twelve-and-a-half of Fanene’s sacks were accumulated in 2009 and 2011, his last two full NFL seasons; he sat out most of 2010 after reaggravating a hamstring he’d suffered in the preseason while matched up against retired Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light in the Bengals’ 38-24 season-opening loss at Gillette that year.
In New England, Fanene joins a familiar face in Chad Ochocinco, a player he credits because “when I came in Cincinnati, he really took me under his arms and taught me the game out there.”
While conceding “I really didn’t hear a lot of his name last year on any of the games,” Fanene, who spoke with Ochocinco last week, said he believes the veteran wide receiver is “going to come back hard this year and do his job and do the best he can do to help the team.”
Which is Fanene’s goal entering his first season with the Patriots, a goal he hopes the work ethic he was taught miles removed from New England will help him attain.
“The lifestyle we have back home was pretty much like a workout for us, like it’s a habit,” said Fanene. “You just wake up and do a lot of chores before you go to school. Our parents are not going to do the chores for us so we have to get up and do it for them.”