Living in Japan has expanded the horizons of late 2017 Cal signee Siulagisipai Fuimaono

New Cal defensive line signee Siulagisipai Fuimaono goes in-depth with BearTerritory about the impact of his time in Japan, his visit to Cal and his decision to head to Berkeley.

Siulagisipai Fuimaono moved around a lot in his youth. Born in Washington, the Samoan moved with his father, Sipaisiulagi Fuimaono, from army base to army base, from Hawaii to Samoa and finally to Arizona, where the elder Fuimaono retired as a sergeant. When Sgt. Fuimaono retired, he was stationed at Fort Huachuca, but the family lived in Sierra Vista, about an hour away from Tucson, Ariz.

That, said California's newest defensive lineman, is where he grew up, and where he notably didn't play much football.

"I only played football one time in third grade, but stopped after that," said Fuimaono, now all of 6-foot-4, 280 pounds.

It wasn't until his father, Sipaisiulagi, got a job in Okinawa, Japan when Fuimaono was in seventh grade that football came back into his life. After he finished the school year, Fuimaono flew out and started going to school on one of the nearby bases.

At first, he was a fish out of water.

"The mannerisms and people I think, like just trying to get accustomed to the manners here instead of over there -- for example, leaving a tip here is bad manners," Fuimaono said of the biggest adjustment he had to make. "It's really opened my eyes, like especially being in a place that was completely new to me. Being around a new culture, with new people, and a completely new area. The way I've adapted to the culture has really changed me as a person and have embedded them into my character. It's become part of my life. I've taken Japanese class for four years, and can talk to the locals normally."

When he entered high school at Kadena High School, on the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, his friend, John Murphy, suggested that he try out for the football team.

"I didn't really fall in love with it or start being passionate about it until I got to high school," Fuimaono said. "I fell in love with it because it was a way for me to vent out personal issues I had. It was a doorway for me to get away from all the issues I had going on. Also, I loved the feeling of hitting and the rush of running after people to take them down."

Just as Fuimaono's world opened up outside of the gates of the base, so too did his world inside those gates -- a 20-minure walk from his house -- widen.

"My coach, Sergio Mendoza taught us football through a way that I could learn to be a better person," said Fuimaono, who said that the personal issues with which football helped him to deal were due to family stresses. Football helped Fuimaono grow up, and boy, has he grown.

He was named defensive MVP runner-up on his team two years in a row, before finally, as a senior, earning the top honors. He recorded 94 tackles, 21.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and one forced fumble. Fuimaono always knew he had the ability to play at the next level, but just didn't know how to go about it.

"I didn't think I was good enough to get a full scholarship, so due to financial problems I was planning on going to a junior college first and then try to get a scholarship from there," he said.

Then, as luck would have it, he attended a football camp from March 27 to April 14, at the gyms both on the Kadena Air Base, and the Foster Marine Base, and was recommended to the Cal staff.

The Bears were intrigued, to say the least. They wanted him to come out to see them, to meet with the coaches and see the campus in person. He'd never been to an American college campus, before, and with his dream set out in front of him, he took the chance. Fuimaono and his father tripped out to Berkeley for an official visit the weekend of the spring game.

"The weekend was very fun, just being able to experience everything, especially with my dad by my side to experience with me," he said. "We watched practice, the spring game, took tours around campus and the stadium, and even got to eat in the mess hall. I met all the coaches and got pretty accustomed to a few of them."

Fuimaono felt at home in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a place like Berkeley, with such a large international student population.

"Well, being in a school that has a really big mix of students, walking around the campus made me feel very comfortable and familiar," he said. "But a big part that made me commit there was the coaching staff."

He sat down to talk with outside linebackers coach Tony Tuioti and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who proved to be a natural fit.

"Coach Tuioti shared a lot of the same values as my coach and my dad, mostly where the team should be really tight knit and a family," Fuimaono said. "Azzinaro seems like he really wants to coach me, and I truly trust that he will make me the best player that I can be. I don't really know how to explain it, but I trust that he will show me how to become a great player."

After the first day on campus, Fuimaono and his father sat down in their hotel room. He was sold.

"We both agreed that it was a good place for me," Fuimaono said.

Before the spring game, he told the staff he wanted to be a Bear. 20 days later, he signed with the Bears in a ceremony at his school, giving the Cal staff the nose tackle they've been looking for, and giving him yet another home. It may not be the one he knew he'd end up at, but it was the one he was looking for.


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