By STEVE CHOICE
Pima Community College football players Pepa and Peti Fonokalafi both have the laid-back nature and easy smile most people associate with their native Hawaii.
But the defensive linemen also know how to summon “the beast” when they get between the lines.
“In Hawaii, everything is ‘hang loose, relax, chill,’” said Peti, the younger of the two brothers. “But on the football field, your personality has to change. You can’t be that chill person you were off the field.
“Off the field, I’ll hold the door for you. I’ll be a gentleman and respect you, and respect everybody. But on the field, you gotta be a beast. You gotta go out there to destroy somebody.”
Pepa agrees with his “little” brother, who weighs right around the same 292 pounds that he does.
“Most people say, ‘You can’t turn the switch on and off,’ but I’m a naysayer on that,” he said, laughing. “I put my hand down on the line, and I could actually snap.”
Despite the warrior mentality the two brothers adopt on the field, they’re quick with a laugh and a friendly word. They also share a deep and abiding respect for family, whether it be actual blood relations or just other “cousins” who they hang around with in Tucson.
“For us the other Polynesians are family, you know,” said Pepa, who is currently rehabbing a torn medial collateral ligament and is unable to play. “The other ‘Polys’ on the team, we call them cousins.”
Big brother is happy to have his real sibling close to him in Tucson, especially with their mother having health problems back home.
“She’s real sick right now,” said Pepa, who garnered second-team all-ACCAC honors in 2010. “My mom is our main income. So now I’m trying to buckle down and put some money together to support me and my little brother out here.”
Pepa already felt a sense of responsibility for his brother before their mother began to have health problems.
“I told my brother I’d support his decision wherever he went to play after high school,” he said. “But he came here, and I played a very big part in that. Also he understood our family situation.
“Our family can’t support us in two different places.”
For now, the two brothers have different takes on Tucson.
“I look at Tucson as home,” said Pepa, who hopes to get a scholarship from the University of Arizona. “Everybody back home was joking like, ‘Are you a Tuck City boy now?’
“Everybody’s asking me when I’m going to return, but I actually like it here now.”
And Peti’s initial impression?
“I miss the beach,” said the freshman, who had a sack in a 43-0 loss at Mesa Community College on Sept. 29. “It’s also really hot here.”
For a newly arrived transplant, and one who very recently was basking in the gentle, island breezes of Hawaii, a little homesickness isn’t all that surprising. He’s hoping to make the most of his time in Arizona, though.
“I just have to keep pushing myself to get to the next level,” he said. “It’s like that saying, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent don’t work hard.’
“All you can do is keep working hard and hope for that scholarship.”