“If Steve were to tell me, ‘Run through that wall because that’s how you’re going to get better,' I’m going to run 100 miles per hour through that wall.”
That perfectly describes the relationship between second-year DL Folorunso Fatukasi and 10th-year DL Steve McLendon.
Fatukasi was selected in the sixth round in the 2018 draft, and while he only played in one game (Week 12) as a rookie, he put in extra work with McLendon every day after practice from bungee cords to pushing sleds to recovery. Wherever McLendon was or whatever McLendon did, Fatukasi would mirror the 33-year-old.
“Really, we’re just two guys that want to get better,” Fatukasi said. “He has a lot of knowledge, same with a lot of the older guys in the room, too. Obviously, he’s the OG in the room, so whatever questions I have, thoughts I have, he’s always attentive to me.
“He’s been in this game for a long time. He has a lot of knowledge of this game, so we take advantage of the things he tell us.”
For the better part of a year, Fatukasi kept his head down and worked without seeing the results. His opportunity hadn’t come yet, but that didn’t discourage the UConn product, who made it his goal to take advantage of his scout-team reps last year. He’d often receive pointers from McLendon, who would watch Fatukasi in practice — “Do this a little better, do that. All right, that’s good. Work on this move a little more.”
See Best Photos from the Practice Field During Week 7
Now, the 6’4”, 318-pounder’s has played in 78 of the defense’s 307 snaps through five games in 2019.
“Last year, when we were going to each game, I kept my mind and kept my body ready because I learned last year that things can happen and you can be up,” he said. “Just being prepared from that aspect every week helped me take that mindset into this year, staying prepared the same way. More so now because I’m contributing.
“All that last year, I did that to stay prepared in case my opportunity came. Now, it’s just magnified a little bit more. All of this is about preparation, keeping your mind ready, keeping your body ready, so when your name is called, you’re ready to go.”
Coming off his best game as a pro against the Cowboys in which he racked up a quarterback hit and four tackles, including a key third-down stop of Ezekiel Elliott where he split a double-team, Fatukasi sounds like his mentor.
“Overall, I just want to stay now in the moment, whatever I feel like I need to get better at, whatever the coaches tell me, the older players like Steve,” he said. “That’s the stuff I’m going to continue to work on. Right now, this is the most important moment to me. It can be taken away from you any snap and I’m appreciative of this moment.”
McLendon, one of the Jets’ six team captains, practices what he preaches — hard work, consistency and perfecting your craft — and it's rubbed off on Fatukasi.
“I knew it was there last year, before he even started playing," McLendon said of his understudy. "I said your time is going to come, just make the best of it and that’s exactly what he’s doing right now.
“He’s taken everything that was given to him and he’s taken it to the football field. Not only that, but in the classroom, he’s one of the guys that asks the most questions. He wants to know, he wants to get better, he’s eager to get better. He’s not letting the moment become too big for him. He’s just doing the necessary things to put himself in the right situation to make plays."