The football gene runs deep in the Fotu family, who are originally from Tonga and now live in San Leandro, which is on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay.
First, there's big defensive tackle Joe Fotu, a pure plugger who signed on with Illinois out of Laney College (Oakland, Calif.) just last year. One year younger, 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive end Anthony Fotu will be a sophomore at Laney and figures to gain even more recruiting attention.
Then there's high school sophomore Alex Fotu, another lineman who might just be the biggest of the bunch. And just coming up through the ranks is David Fotu, an eighth grade trenchman who will show off his vast potential at the high school level next year.
"There's some athletes; there's definitely some players," laughed Anthony Fotu, who recently received a scholarship offer from Maryland and has heavy interest from Illinois and Miami. "Joe, he's going to be 20 next month, and he's a very good player. I learned everything from him, and I am where I am now because of Joe. But I'm way better than Joe (laughs)."
Indeed, while there's a bit of an age gap between Joe and Anthony and the two younger Fotus, the elder siblings have formed that stereotypical brotherly rivalry. The two have been playing together since high school and are as close as twins, according to Anthony. In fact, they look so similar that those who don't know them might even confuse them for twins.
"Oh, we're very close, but we always go against each other," Anthony Fotu said. "We always compete. Like in practice, with Oklahoma drills, one on one drills, everything we do we're competing. We bring out the best in each other."
The two might just have the chance to up the ante in said competition in a year or two. While Anthony Fotu will apparently land an Illinois offer once he visits Champagne next month, he said he might just want to play against Joe at the FCS level.
"We've played together for awhile now and I think it would be fun to play against him, do something different," Fotu said. "I'd actually rather play against my brother. I know Maryland is moving to the Big Ten, and they play Illinois, so I'd have that chance if I went [to UMD]."
Yes, the Maryland Terps do have that card to play as they recruit Fotu out of the junior college ranks. Anthony Fotu said he hasn't spoken to his recruiter, Brian Stewart, yet, but he's looking forward to building a rapport with him and setting up a possible visit in the summer. Laney's head coach, Jim Beam, has known Stewart, a San Diego native, for years and has been in touch with him regarding Fotu and several of his recruits.
"My coaches have talked to Maryland, and my defensive coordinator said they were very interested and had offered," Fotu said. "I'm hoping to talk to them soon about it all. Right now I'm truly happy and honored to have the offer. It's a blessing for me, and I'm looking forward to visiting."
So, being on the west coast, and considering Fotu has never been farther east than Argentina (more on that in a bit), does he know anything about the Terps? And furthermore, would he even want to attend college so far from home and his mother, Toa.
"I want to go far away from home -- far away," Fotu said. "I just want to see what's going in the rest of the world. I want to get out of Cali, see something different. I've been here my whole life."
As for Maryland: "I know about the jerseys. I love the jerseys – the color combinations, the Under Armour brand. They all look good. And the Big Ten move is big for them; it's a great move and it would be fun to play against my brother."
While Fotu hasn't set up firm plans to see Maryland yet, he will probably take his first college visit to Illinois in April. He said the Illinois staff has been checking in on him, keeping in touch about his grades and building a relationship. Fotu indicated the Illini would inevitably offer once he made it to campus.
Miami, meanwhile, has a direct connection to Laney through the Hurricanes' offensive line coach, and the Canes figure to pull the trigger as well. It's conceivable Fotu will officially visit UM in the summer along with Maryland.
Right now, though, Fotu is still in the early stages of the recruiting process and is letting his coaches handle most of it. He claims no early favorites, leaders or schools he'd like to hear from.
Fotu was actually born in Tonga but moved to California when he was six months old. He has never returned to his native country, though he said he'd "love to go back at some point."
Though athletically gifted growing up, Fotu did not begin playing American football until he reached San Leandro High School. In fact, rugby was his main sport his freshman year, and he was so good he was selected to the U.S. All-American squad and had a chance to play in Argentina.
"But I stopped playing rugby to focus on football once I realized i could have a future in football," Fotu said. "Rugby really helped me a lot with football, though, because before I started playing rugby I was soft. It toughened me up."
Fotu played jayvee ball his freshman year at San Leandro and admitted he "wasn't very good at all." But his high school coach pushed him on the field and in the weight room, and eventually he grew into a muscular specimen capable of hanging with varsity competition. Fotu ended up starting at both guard and defensive end on the varsity in each of the next three seasons.
But while Fotu's size, strength and athleticism were Division I caliber, he struggled a bit in the classroom, which scared many programs offer. He said both Utah and Utah State wanted his services, while plenty of Pac-12 programs were intrigued, but no offers came in.
"I talked to a whole lot of coaches," Fotu said. "But they weren't able to give me a scholarship."
So, like his brother Joe, Anthony Fotu chose to attend Laney, which is about two hours from San Leandro. Last year he started all but one game for the local JUCO and recorded 27 tackles, four sacks and one interception.
"I think I had a good first year, but I'm trying to do even better this season and hopefully get a few more offers," Fotu said. "I want to play major college football at a four-year program, so I'm doing my best to make that happen."
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