LSU offensive linemen Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington have a lot of similarities.
Both fifth-year seniors stand at 6 feet, 6 inches and weigh in at around 330 pounds, both lived under the same roof last year, and both spent the offseason competing against each other for the starting right guard position.
LSU coach Les Miles announced Monday that Fanaika will start Saturday in the Tigers’ season opener against Wisconsin, but Washington said there were no hard feelings between the former roommates.
“It was fun going against somebody I’m cool with,” Washington said. “Hoko’s one of my better friends on the team. I just look at it as competition. Either way, we’re both going to play a lot this year.”
After contributing as backups in 2013, the pair became the top candidates to replace former LSU offensive lineman Trai Turner, who declared for the NFL Draft after last season.
Instead of pitting themselves against each other, the two decided to focus on helping each other improve and let the coaches worry about who would start.
“I’m seeing great consistency from the both of them,” said senior offensive tackle La’el Collins. “I think those guys are both going to get a tremendous amount of playing time this year.”
The friendship between the two began when Fanaika arrived for spring camp in 2013 after transferring from the College of San Mateo.
Fanaika initially struggled making the transition from a junior college to the speed and style of the Southeastern Conference.
“Last year was hard,” Fanaika said. “It took me a while. I feel like I’m transitioning now and really getting used to it actually — the speed, strength and everything.”
Fanaika said Washington played a big role in his improvement throughout the offseason.
“Hoko got here a while after me, so I knew a lot more about the offense than him,” Washington said. “Anything he needed to know — like when he first learned plays — I would help him with.”
Prior to Fanaika’s arrival, Washington dealt with his fair share of adversity in his time at LSU.
After redshirting his freshman year in 2010, a broken foot kept him off the field in 2011.
“That was one of the roughest times of my life,” Washington said. “That was my first major injury. I was out for a year, and I couldn’t walk for six months.”
Washington then suffered some self-inflicted punishment as he missed his sophomore season in 2012 for academic reasons.
“[After the injury], I made some bad decisions with my life, and I was ineligible the next year,” Washington said. “But it made me a better person. I still ended up graduating early, and now I feel like I’m where I need to be.”
As many similarities as the two share, personality is not one of them. Fanaika is a quiet, musical type who plays several instruments, while Washington is more boisterous, always trying to make his teammates laugh.
While living together during the 2013-2014 year, the two engaged in typical roommate activities like playing video games (Washington proudly boasted his video game dominance over Fanaika in “Madden”), but they also found unique ways to keep each other entertained.
“He plays the guitar and stuff, so I’d be like, ‘Hoko, play a song,’” Washington said. “He’d play a song, and I’d sing off key.”
Washington said Fanaika taught him about his Tongan heritage, though he lamented that he wished he could have learned more.
“He’s pretty secretive,” Washington said. “I’m trying to learn some of the dances, but he won’t teach me. He was my roommate for a whole year, and he didn’t even show me one. ... Maybe by the end of the season, he’ll teach me something.”