Utah edge rusher Jason Fanaika has a cousin on the Chiefs

Utah’s Jason Fanaika (above) has a cousin who plays for the Chiefs — guard Paul Fanaika.
Utah’s Jason Fanaika (above) has a cousin who plays for the Chiefs — guard Paul Fanaika. The Associated Press

If Jason Fanaika’s last name sounds familiar to Chiefs fans, there’s a reason for that; his cousin is veteran guard Paul Fanaika, who signed a three-year free-agent deal with the Chiefs in March 2015

Jason Fanaika, an edge rusher from Utah, is projected to go as early as the fourth round in this year’s NFL Draft. And he certainly wouldn’t mind being reunited with his cousin in Kansas City.

“Man, that would be amazing,” Jason Fanaika said. “He’s a lot older than me, so growing up, I always looked up to him just because he was the first Fanaika to really play college football when he was at Arizona State, so it would be an honor and a great story to tell our family if we ended up playing with each other.”

Fanaika, who checked in at 6 feet 2 and 271 pounds at the NFL Combine, profiles more as a power edge rusher in a 3-4 scheme like the Chiefs use. A two-year starter for the Utes, he recorded 53 tackles (10  1/2 for loss) and four sacks in 2015. He transferred to Utah in 2013 after a two-year stint at Utah State and a two-year LDS mission in Indianapolis.

But early in his life, Jason said he and his younger brother Brandon — who is now a guard at Stanford — were more interested in another sport because of Paul.

“We played baseball because of him,” Jason said. “He was really big into baseball in high school, so we started baseball at a real young age, my younger brother and I. But football just kind of came natural for us.”

Jason, who turns 24 in June, said at the combine that he keeps in contact with Paul, who offered him some advice before he went through the combine process.

“He said to try to get as much rest as I can, try to stay hydrated and take everything as a blessing,” Jason said. “Everybody here is here to show off what they do.”

Paul Fanaika, who is entering his eighth year in the NFL, also gave Jason advice about how to stick around in the NFL for multiple years.

“Just (about) staying passionate, staying focused and (the importance of) longevity as well, staying healthy — I know that’s one thing that he’s battling with,” Jason Fanaika said. “And also just on the finances part, staying smart with that.

Paul Fanaika missed all of the 2015 season with the Chiefs due to a herniated disk in his back. Fanaika, 30, remains at the roster and will have an opportunity to compete at guard.

Jason hopes he’ll land with the Chiefs, and will have an opportunity to face his cousin.

“I’d like to see him in practice,” Fanaika said. “He’s a lot older now, so I think I would get him. (But) he’s strong.”

Inside the 2016 NFL Draft: outside linebackers

Until the draft begins on April 28, The Star will take a look at each position.

Chiefs’ needs: The Chiefs boast two Pro Bowlers at outside linebacker in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, but both have injury concerns. Hali has battled knee problems recently, and Houston is recovering from an offseason knee injury. Dee Ford showed flashes of being a good player last season, but needs to be more consistent. Frank Zombo is a core special-teamer. The Chiefs formally interviewed a handful of edge rushers at the NFL Combine, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them shore up this position with another young edge rusher with talent. In today's NFL, you can never have enough pass rushers.

Sleeper: Don't sleep on Virginia Tech's Dadi Nicolas. His 2015 stats fell off because he spent most of his time inside, and he played through two hand injuries. But his speed and burst off the edge are attractive, and the Chiefs had a formal interview with him at the combine.

Local/area prospects: None

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