By JAMES MORAN
Special to Tiger Rag
Fehoko Fanaika is a man of many talents.
An offensive lineman heading into his senior season at LSU, Fanaika is a gridiron road grader known for imposing his will in the running game. Off the field, when he’s home and away from prying eyes, the man teammates call "Hoko” changes skillset gears.
Think ukulele. Or an impressive assortment of other musical instruments.
Beneath helmet and pads, Fanaika is a musician. He seamlessly switches from muscle and might to melodious and mellow where success defined by a combination of rhythm, creativity and disciplined timing of skillful — if not gargantuan — fingertips.
Fearing embarrassment and good-natured teasing from teammates, Fanaika is bashful and guarded about his artistic talents. With a bit of prodding, he will permit one in on a little secret: He plays guitar, piano, trumpet and ukulele — but no photos of him with an instrument, please.
"My father taught me everything I know about music,” said Fanaika, who is the first LSU player of Tongan decent. "My father went to school for music, so when my siblings and I were growing up, it just kind of fell to us. From there we all fell in love with it.”
Between his father, brother and sister, Fanaika was surrounded by music from an early age in northern California, where he was raised and where his parents still reside. He says he is best on the trumpet because he’s played it the longest. His newest project is the guitar, an instrument he didn’t pick up until arriving in Baton Rouge.
While considering himself something of a connoisseur of music genres, his favorite is reggae. "I love the mellow sounds and it feels good just to listen to it. I’m not great at it, but I like trying to play it sometimes.”
Fanaika currently is competing for LSU’s right guard position against fellow senior Evan Washington. The two share an apartment so Washington, who said his own musical prowess has never progressed further than self-described shower singing, is one of a few who get a front-row seat for the show.
"Hoko is really good,” Washington said. "We’ll be in a room and I’ll tell him to play something. He sings, too. He’s pretty shy about it and he probably won’t tell you about it, but he does. He’s even good at that, too, as long as he knows the words.”
Before enrolling at LSU last spring, Fanaika was the starting right guard at the College of San Mateo, a junior college. Spending his entire life living in either in San Francisco or Sacramento, it was time for a change of scenery when he graduated from San Mateo.
"I figured I was probably going to live on the West Coast for the rest of my life, so might as well trying something new,” Fanaika said. "I decided to come down to Baton Rouge and my parents supported my decision fully. I’ve loved it here.”
For Fanaika, the transition to life in southern Louisiana was nothing short of culture shock. The weather, people and music are a 180-degree flip from the shores of Northern California, he notes.
One aspect of Cajun culture has presented its fair share of problems.
He shed 30 of his amazing 370 pounds during his first year at LSU, and he is working on dropping 10 to 15 additional pounds before the 2014 season begins.
"I had never had Cajun food,” Fanaika laughed. "I love crawfish and beignets. The only problem is it makes it hard when you’re trying to lose 40 pounds.”