Meet Jason Fanaika, a 6’3", 270 pound defensive end from Pleasant Grove, Utah. He began his collegiate career in 2010 at Utah State playing under then coach Gary Andersen, who is now the head man at Oregon State. After two seasons with the Aggies, Fanaika left for Indianapolis to serve his LDS Church mission, though it was short-lived due to his father’s colon cancer diagnosis. He felt it was his duty to discontinue his assignment and head back to Utah to be with his family. Upon his return to the Beehive State, he put football on the back burner to help out at home. After not receiving much interest on his quest back to the gridiron, Jason decided to walk onto the University of Utah football team where he red-shirted in 2013.
During his first eligible season in 2014, Fanaika had an immediate impact for a Utes team that was continuing to find its footing after making the leap from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12. Although he was a bit of a wildcard, Coach Kyle Whittingham and the defensive staff rewarded his relentless work ethic with playing time. He did not disappoint. Jason was a force on the defensive line and had a productive 2014 season.
As a seasoned veteran heading into 2015, Fanaika was a focal point of a Utes defense that ranked 6th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (a 50 spot jump from 2014 according to ESPN). That did not come by accident. The amount of work those guys put in during the 2015 off season was unbelievable, trust me, I witnessed it firsthand. And when I say unbelievable, I meant unbelievable.
I can recall the first time I wandered into the strength facility (I got lost looking for the locker room) and saw Jason bench press 515 pounds. That’s right, no typo, no exaggeration, five hundred and fifteen pounds. It was the first time I second guessed my decision to play football. For our readers who don’t realize just how much weight that compares to, here are some common things that are roughly the same weight: two Black Bears, two refrigerators and one and a half Shaq’s. And if you weren’t impressed with a 515-pound bench press, Jason squatted a ridiculous 830 pounds during our end-of-summer strength testing. Insane, I know. Again, here is a short list of common objects that compare in weight: an Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, a Horse, 3 male Gorillas and a Harley Davidson.
So now we have an idea of how Jason Fanaika gets himself ready for a new season of Pac-12 football, but how is he preparing for next week’s NFL Draft (Thursday, April 28th, 8 PM ET)? I did a Q&A with him to find out.
Robert Mansell: What is your average day like while you prepare for the draft?
Jason Fanaika: An average day of training for me would be 7:10am wake up, get ready for my first workout, get my protein and supplements in, I don't usually eat breakfast because I don't like it but I probably should. I head to Next Level Performance about 5 Minutes away from my home here in Pleasant Grove, Utah. I get in a great workout of either legs, upper body, or speed work done. My workout there finishes around 9:20, and then I drive about 2 minutes to XD Cross Fit gym, also here in Pleasant Grove. I get in another solid workout of a combination of Cardio and Heavy Lifting. I'm there usually until around 11:30am. I participate in a class with a lot of great people who are trying to get fit and into shape; afterwards I do a program called Cross Fit Football created by John Welbourn. I love it because the combination between football specific training at Next Level Performance combined with Cross Fit has really helped me to not only make me a better football player with more athleticism, but to be explosive and shed body fat to have more body control too, it’s better while training more muscles to work as a "well oiled" machine. After my workout there, I come home and eat lunch with my gorgeous wife Brittney and my beautiful daughter Loumaile. We hang out for most of the day and run errands. We start dinner around 5pm. After our dinner we get ready to go to the gym together, my wife and daughter run around the Rec Center track while I lift and train with some friends. There, I mostly just lift to look good but I'm still trying to burn calories, so we workout hard. After that we come home and by that time it's usually around 9, we get ready for bed, maybe watch a movie and put the baby to sleep. The next day, same thing.
RM:What advice have your coaches at Utah given you during this process?
JF: My Coaches at Utah really prepared me for the next level, just like they have with so many other guys who have come through the program to produce at the next level. One thing that they have told me is to just grind and to never stop, always look to be better and separate myself from others.
RM: How has the Utah Football program prepared you for this moment?
JF: If I could go back and was given an opportunity to train and go to school and play anywhere in the country, I would still choose Utah because of the lessons I've learned and the brothers I have added to my family. I walked onto Utah's football program and was given the chance to earn a scholarship and they taught me the true meaning of hard work and dedication.
RM: Football, especially at the Pac-12 and NFL level, is a gruesome sport, why do you play?
JF: It gives opportunities and opens doors that have really helped my family and me to strive to be better people. I have a younger brother that plays at Stanford now and also a first cousin that played for Coach Erickson (Utah’s Running Back Coach) at Arizona State. I play because it gives me the chance to make a better future for my kid and future kids and because I owe the game so much because it has given me so much.
RM: How much of a role did not being heavily recruited out of high school play into your development as a football player?
JF: I know for a fact that not being heavily recruited coming out of high school has helped me and continues to help me to strive for success. My senior year we had a total of like 7 guys receive division 1 scholarships to play football and I was the only guy with just one offer. It kinda pissed me off to be honest because I felt I was just as good as the other 6 guys if not better and I wanted to prove that to everyone because I knew I was. It has helped me out in my life off the field as well, pushing myself in everything I can and looking for opportunities to serve and help others and not take any blessing I get for granted.
RM: What do you do differently to separate yourself from the rest of the defensive ends being considered for the Draft?
JF: I know the big difference between myself and every defensive end in this draft is that I am able to play so many different positions within the box, meaning I can play defensive tackle, defensive end, middle linebacker, and outside linebacker. I have been fortunate to play each position and produce and be effective for my team. I have been training at all positions so that when I go to a team, I can help them out wherever they need it.
RM: What has been the most difficult part of this transition from the Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU until now?
JF: I wouldn't say anything has been too difficult but I definitely am eager about wanting to know where my family and I will end up. I think it's the unknown that has really been the hard part but that is also what makes it so fun and exciting.
RM: A lot of people don’t realize just how much work goes into being an elite level division 1 athlete, what do you have to say to the people who might underestimate an athlete’s work ethic?
JF: I think that it is hard to try and explain because you really can't understand it until you go through the work and you grind with a group of people day in and day out wanting to accomplish something great and be a part of something special and big. If there was one thing that I could say is that an athlete is great only when they go from merely wanting to win, to being obsessed with winning. That is what separates the work ethic between the good and the elite. When an athlete becomes obsessed then there is no telling what you may see and that is why America loves sports so much.
RM: Which NFL player, past or present, do you try to mold your game after and who do you think your game resembles the most?
JF: Kevin Greene and Rickey Jackson. Those two players are guys I really look up to and I really love to watch. They are big physical guys who can get to the ball and they punish everyone in their way. If you have seen those two play then you see passion and energy and those are things that make me love the game.
RM: When your career ends, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
JF: I hope to leave behind a special memory in the way people viewed me. I hope to change the game and create a whole new position on the defense, someone who roams like a safety but does it in the trenches and within the first 10 yard window of the snap of the ball. I want to leave a mark on this game and I will.
RM: Favorite in-game memory at Utah?
JF: It has to be my interception against USC my junior year playing middle linebacker and covering Nelson Agholor. That helped us come back into the game because it led to a TD.
RM: Pregame playlist?
JF: I play really well when I'm in a good mood and relaxed so I like to listen to my girl T Swift, some Ke$ha, Travis Porter, Justin Bieber, Drake, Mac Miller, J Boog, Taurus Riley, Sione Toki, Teki, Sam Smith, Bryson Tiller just to name a few.
RM: Favorite spot to eat in Salt Lake City?
JF: The best place in the Salt Lake Valley is Lanikai Grill in South Jordan and the best place south of that is Sweeto Burrito. Nothing touches those two places.
RM: Favorite teammate from Philadelphia who played safety but was only at Utah for 5 weeks last summer?
JF: Gotta be the man, the myth, the legend HIMSELF, Rob Mansell!
RM: Favorite animal?
JF: My favorite animal is the Gorilla.
RM: Stuck on a deserted island with 3 things, what are they?
JF: Food, my family, and movies with a way to watch them.
JF: My dad, my mom and anyone not afraid to take chances and help others to be successful.
RM: Besides the NFL, what was your dream job growing up?
JF: I wanted to be an architect, building things and being able to make people happy by bringing to life their dreams and imaginations.
RM: Hobbies outside of football?
JF: I love to watch movies and play video games, I love to cook and eat, hanging out with family and friends is huge. I'm at the gym lifting weights or playing basketball every day for at least a few hours. And spending time with my wife and daughter.
RM: Message to kids with dreams of playing in the NFL?
JF: Don't let anyone come in the way of what you want; I had high school coaches tell me I wasn't going to make it to college and play. I was surrounded by such great talent so I was never really able to impress coaches because the other kids around me were so good, but I stuck with it and now I'm the only one out of 10 of us to be fighting for an NFL job. Work hard, do what works for you and makes you better, and don't be afraid to try something new.
Whichever team decides to give Jason Fanaika an opportunity to play for them will surely not regret it. The Utah native will bring toughness, a high football IQ, and a relentless work ethic that will benefit any organization. And even though we know Jason is a terrific football player, what he has accomplished during his career does not compare to the kind of individual he is. His class, character and positive outlook on life soar high above his athletic abilities (even his maximum squat), which we know are already unmatched. While next weekend will be a huge determinant of his football future, I know for a fact Jason Fanaika will continue to be the same good-hearted kid from Pleasant Grove.