Utah football: Fanaika reestablishing his career at Utah
The Utah State transfer brings intensity, smarts and newfound maturity to Utes.
Published: April 17, 2014 10:24PM
Updated: April 16, 2014 10:15PM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah defensive lineman, Jason Fanaika, 51, a transfer from Utah State, takes the field during spring football practice at the Spence Eccles Football Facility in Salt Lake City, Utah Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

He doesn’t hold back: The trash talk spews forth from his mouth like venom.

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound defensive end inches in front of Jeremiah Poutasi and tells him his quarterback will end up face down in the turf. After the snap, he’ll do his best to fulfill his threat and muscle into the pocket.

The big left tackle is thankful that at the end of every two-hour practice, that the scourge in a black jersey dials back the gusto and ferocity, morphing into a friend who will pat him on the back.

Poutasi would much rather have Jason Fanaika as his cousin than as his enemy.

“We always go at it,” Poutasi said. “There’s a lot of trash talking, but it stays on the field. We know it’s just to get us pumped up. It’s fun going against your family.”

Fanaika and Poutasi go back: For a time they lived together as brothers, when Poutasi was preparing to come to the U. But Fanaika, a junior transfer from Utah State, is still integrating himself into his new Utes family.

This spring he’s been battling to get up the depth chart for a chance to play this fall. At the moment, he’s neck-and-neck with Hunter Dimick, and it seems that at least, he’ll get some rotation snaps. After sitting out a year, nothing would be better than getting back out on Saturdays.

“It feels really, really good being out here with the boys, bumping heads and hitting and all that,” Fanaika said. “The intensity is something I’m going for.”

If he wanted to, Fanaika could lay some of his body of work on the table.

He’s not just another spring chicken off the scout team. He’s played in the show: At Utah State, he played in 22 games, started five and made 29 tackles in two seasons.

But that isn’t his way of doing things. Rebuilding his career and reestablishing himself in a new program has been refreshingly invigorating.

“I like the rush,” he said. “You’ve always got to be on your toes. When you’ve got your spot, you don’t really think much about anyone coming to take it from you. But starting over, nobody really knows what you’re about or what you can do.”

What Fanaika could do — well, that may be waiting to be fully realized. He has shown Utah a great deal by getting into the backfield, taking up space in the run game, getting his hands in the way of passing lanes.

Take it from a guy who has to block him almost every day.

“It’s his speed and his technique and his smarts for the game,” Poutasi said. “He’s a very smart player. He knows when to jump for the tackle, or when he can grab a guy down.”

Fan has the right size to be a quality defensive end. He rolls up his sleeves in practice, highlighting the bulging arms that can push aside blockers. The rest is pretty much left to him.

“He’s got a lot of natural raw ability,” defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki said, in a measured tone. “He’s got to show that he’s going to be a guy this spring. We like what we see so far.”

Fanaika moved schools primarily to be closer to his family in Pleasant Grove and help care for his father, who has had some health issues. He’s also gotten married in the interim, which coaches say has helped his maturity.

Overall, Fanaika said, the transition has not been too difficult. The staff at Utah expects many of the same things he did at Utah State: chiefly work hard, and don’t make mistakes.

Simple enough.

“The bottom line is you’ve gotta grind,” Fanaika said. “That’s something that’s the same for me.”

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon

A closer look

• Jason Fanaika is a Pleasant Grove graduate who helped the Vikings make the Class 5A quarterfinals.

• Recorded five starts, 29 tackles at USU.

• Spent last season on Utes scout team while sitting out due to transfer rules.