GLENDALE, Ariz. — The drive from the players’ hotel to the stadium can’t take much more than a minute, unless of course the shuttle van gets stopped at the light on the corner of Maryland and 95th avenue.
Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza is near that corner.
“Everyday we drive by that Pat Tillman statue,” Paul Fanaika said, “I still get the chills everyday I pass that thing on my way to practice and on my way back. I always look out for it every day. It’s a neat deal.”
Fanaika played four seasons at Arizona State University. He was named the team’s most outstanding offensive lineman as a senior in 2008.
Five years later, Fanaika is back in the Valley, playing for the local pro team.
“It’s definitely a great experience to play here, being a former Sun Devil,” he said.
Fanaika, 27, is more than just playing.
With the leg injury to guard Daryn Colledge, Fanaika is lined up at right guard, working with the first team offense through the first week of training camp for the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of reps. It sucks that we got a guy injured, but you’ve just got to step in there and do your best, so the offense can run smoothly; just plug in the next guy and go.”
Fanaika had nowhere to go last year.
After two seasons in Seattle, he was released by the Seahawks and found himself out of a job and out of the league in 2012.
Fanaika said he spent the year away watching a lot of football, enjoying time with his family and waiting for the phone to ring.
“I knew I still had some good ball in me, so I didn’t really worry too much about the opportunity coming because I felt I still had a lot left,” he said.
The Cardinals called earlier this year.
“Paul Fanaika has really grabbed a hold of his opportunity. Now he’s at guard. He was tackle most of spring (during organized team activities). Right now, he’s looking really good,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “Those are the surprises that you find out when a guy gets an opportunity and gets those reps — make the most of it.”
When told of those comments, Fanaika replied, “It feels good, but we’re still early in camp. We’ve just got to keep plugging away, plugging away, plugging away. It’s a good start, but there’s definitely still a lot to go. It would be better if we’re having this talk later at the end of the season. All I can just hope is just be consistent every day, come out here and do my job with a big smile on my face.”