Steve Fifita is an All-American candidate this year.
Sept. 13, 2005
Lining up opposite Steve Fifita is a taller order than it may seem.
Fifita is just one of a handful of Mountain West Conference defensive linemen that measure up at just six-foot tall. Some might be quick to point out that he's a little undersized at his position but don't let that mislead you.
"The linemen I go up against are taller but I weigh 315 pounds myself," noted Fifita. "So we're about the same weight. I think I got the advantage, though. Because I'm smaller, I get better leverage when I go up against taller opponents. I try to use that to my benefit."
And the Huntington Beach, Calif., native has used his leverage to cast himself into the spotlight as well. He garnered honorable mention all-conference accolades as a sophomore and was a first-team All-MWC pick last year. Not to be outdone, he heads into the 2005 campaign as an All-America candidate as well. But, much to his chagrin, his efforts have also caught the eye of opposing coaches.
He likes what he does on the field and it shows. The numbers he posts warrant the respect that he receives when he steps on the gridiron. Fifita is the team's third-best returning tackler (45 total stops last season) and led all Ute defenders with nine tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
"I have always played defense," said Fifita. "I like it. It's more physical than offense and the mentality of it allows you to be meaner."
While his stats tell the story of the success he has enjoyed on the field, it also coincides with the success his teams have had. However, Fifita casually points out that the recent success he has enjoyed with Utah is nothing new to him.
"I started playing football when I was 7-years-old," recalled Fifita. "When I was growing up, I always thought that I was on the best team and that we couldn't ever be beat. I haven't been on too many losing teams. My teams usually end up going to the playoffs or doing very well."
Except for his freshman year, when Utah went 5-6, the mild-mannered lineman can't remember playing for a losing team since he first donned the pads. And, his ways have helped the Utes become one of the premiere programs on the national scene. However, when he arrived for preseason in August 2004, he knew it was going to be a whole different ballgame.
"When we showed up for camp last year and I saw the talent that we had, I knew there were big things in store for this team," Fifita said. That team was special. It went 12-0 and was the first non-BCS team to earn an automatic bid to a BCS Bowl. Utah went to the Fiesta and routed Pittsburgh, 35-7. When Fifita looks back on it, there was one moment from the experience that reminded him why it is that he plays the game.
"It was a nice rush when we came out of the tunnel at the Fiesta Bowl," Fifita says of the record-breaking event. "We had a long wait before we could do that, so I took a nap before we took the field. And, when we ran out on the field, it was such a rush that it woke me up and got my blood going. I've never seen anything like that in my whole entire football career."
Fifita even got to hold the multi-million dollar, jewel-encrusted Fiesta Bowl trophy afterward. But, that still takes a backseat to those first few moments of the game.
"The fans cheering you on before the game is such a rush. It's the feeling that I play for. I mean, it felt good to hold up the Fiesta Bowl trophy at the end of the game but it doesn
't compare to the feeling you get when first step on to that field." With so much accomplished in only three seasons of playing time, Fifita still has one more objective as he enters his senior year.
"My girlfriend's little brother (Michael Musso) recently passed away," said the standout lineman in a somber tone. "So, I'm trying to dedicate my last year to him. I want to make my girlfriend and her family proud. I want to do it for him because he loved playing football."