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Michigan State's Fou Fonoti enjoying return to California

ROSE BOWL NOTES

The Spartans senior right tackle, who is from Lakewood, says it has been great sharing the experience of playing in the Rose Bowl game with his family.

December 29, 2013|By Gary Klein and Chris Dufresne
  • Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford follows behind the block of teammate Fou Fonoti on a touchdown run against Northwestern in the first half of a Big Ten Conference game this season.
Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford follows behind the block of… (David Banks / Getty Images )

Fou Fonoti is the only player from California on Michigan State's roster.

The senior right tackle from Lakewood said Sunday that he had entertained about 50 family members since arriving in Southern California for Wednesday's Rose Bowl game against Stanford.

"It's been great to share this experience," he said.

The 6-foot-4, 298-pound Fonoti played at Lakewood Mayfair High and Cerritos College before choosing Michigan State over UCLA, Arizona, Washington State and Rutgers.

"The first month was a struggle," he said of moving to East Lansing, Mich. "I was definitely depressed just because I was so homesick.

"But I started to transition, started to get close to these guys, and some of them were nice enough to take me to their homes…. I grew to love it."

Fonoti started 11 games in 2011, when the Spartans reached the Big Ten Conference championship game. Early last season, he suffered a foot injury that forced him to sit out the final 11 games.

He returned this season to help the Spartans reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.

"He's one of our leaders," said Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio.

Change is coming

Stanford Coach David Shaw loves the tradition of the Rose Bowl and doesn't want to see it change.

"You can always count on the Rose Bowl being the Rose Bowl," Shaw said.

Well, sort of.

The truth is the Rose Bowl is changing and Shaw has no say in it.

The good news is if he can get Stanford to next season's Rose Bowl, he'll have a chance to win the national title.

The Rose Bowl will still be Jan. 1 and will still follow the parade, but it will be different. Next season, in the new playoff format, the Rose and Sugar bowls will host semifinal games leading to the first College Football Playoff national title at Jerry Jones' stadium in Texas.

"My philosophy is we're still going to concentrate on the Rose Bowl," Shaw said. "We're still going to concentrate on our conference. If we can win our conference again, that would be great. If we get invited to the playoffs, that would be great."

Next year, if Stanford wins the Pac-12 Conference but does not finish in the top four, it will get shipped to another major bowl.

"I think we all get a little uneasy whenever that happens," Shaw said. "But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

Stepping in

Michigan State's Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris have been splitting reps as they prepare to step in for middle linebacker Max Bullough, a team captain who was suspended on the eve of the Spartans' arrival for violating unspecified team rules.

Elsworth, a fifth-year senior, said he was initially surprised by the turn of events.

"It's different, coming here thinking all I'm going to play is some special teams and maybe get some goal-line, and then finding out, 'Hey, you might be the guy,'" he said. "At first, it's kind of a shock to your system."

Elsworth, however, said he would be ready.

"I'm going to take full advantage of the opportunity that's there and step up and show the team, show the nation and show everyone that Michigan State's linebackers are more than one-deep."

Harris, a sophomore, anticipates that he and Elsworth both will play.

"Kyler and I are very close on and off the field," Harris said. "We've talked all season about wanting to contribute more, wanting to get our opportunity.

"Since I've got here, he's been like a big brother to me, so I think it's really fitting that us two are getting this opportunity."

gary.klein@latimes.com

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

Twitter: @dufresneLATimes

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