Fanti finishes strong career with Eastern

Blake Nash, Assistant Sports Editor

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Dino Fanti’s career with Eastern football may be over, but the memories from his four years at Eastern will remain with him. In the last three years Fanti has been named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference first and second team twice, and was named the Co-OVC defensive player of the year when the regular season ended.

Red-shirt senior defensive tackle Dino Fanti was awarded the Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Fanti also broke EIU's record for tackles for loss in a season and career.

Molly Dotson
Red-shirt senior defensive tackle Dino Fanti was awarded the Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Fanti also broke EIU’s record for tackles for loss in a season and career.

Fanti was a defensive tackle from 2013-15, helping the Panthers make playoffs twice and win the OVC championship in 2013. He says that memory will stand out above the rest.

“My most fond moment as an Eastern Illinois Panther was going into San Diego State and beating them,” Fanti said. “That was probably the best win ever of my career. It was memorable to be able to do that at Qualcomm Stadium.”

That season the Panthers were ranked No. 1 in the nation through most of the season, advancing to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. When former head coach Dino Babers took the same job at Bowling Green, Eastern hired Kim Dameron as its head coach.

Dameron had been a defensive coordinator for a long period of time, and developed the Panthers’ defense into one of the Top Five units in the OVC.

Early this season the Panthers struggled in nonconference play, going 0-3 before winning five games in a row against OVC opponents. But their biggest test in the conference season came on November 7th when they hosted No. 1 ranked Jacksonville State.

Eastern gave the Gamecocks a run for their money, remaining tied at 3-3 until the fourth quarter. Jacksonville State went on to score 21 unanswered points for a 24-3 victory. Fanti totaled five tackles that day in the emotional loss.

“You go into a game wanting to win, expecting to win, nothing less than that,” Fanti said. “Every game you want to bring your best, but the No. 1 team coming into our house stirs up your emotions more than normal.”

Eastern was in desperate need to win the last two games to keep its playoff hopes alive. Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack had used Fanti in various spots on the line of scrimmage, and the results of his strategy began to gain national attention after a win at Tennessee-Martin.

Fanti totaled seven tackles, including 2.5 for loss and a sack in the 23-21 victory against one of the OVC’s best offenses. He earned OVC defensive player of the week, as well as the national player of the week.

“Coach Wommack does a great job of moving him on the line and in the right spot on pass rush situations,” Dameron said. “He is a heck of a young man. He is smart and plays with tremendous effort and intensity.”

Wommack became the defensive coordinator in 2014, which was his first year in that position. Fanti said that Wommack is wise beyond his years and is one of the coaches that he has learned the most from. Fanti has had three different coaching staffs in his five years at Eastern.

But Fanti believes his defensive coordinator may be destined for bigger things in his future.

“There’s no doubt that Kane can definitely be a head coach in the future,” Fanti said. “He brings a whole different theme to a team when he’s got a defense, or defensive system, like that for him.”

At six-foot-one and 265 pounds, Fanti may not be what FBS football coaches call the right size for a legitimate defensive lineman. But Dameron said that Fanti is what this level of football is all about, especially with his passion for football.

“He’s what FCS football is all about,” Dameron said. “He’s not big enough, fast enough or not this or that. But he’s a playmaking dude, who loves to play the game.”

That desire was shown in the November 21 victory over Eastern Kentucky when he made five tackles, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks in the 21-7 victory. One of his sacks resulted in a 62-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by linebacker Nick Horne.

That win propelled the Panthers to the playoffs, where their season ended last Saturday at Northern Iowa. Fanti was named the OVC defensive player of the year, along with Eastern Kentucky defensive lineman Noah Spence. Fanti’s preseason goal was to become a first team all-conference player.

Graduation is nearing for the Florida native, who will graduate with a degree in sociology. Fanti plans to return home in pursuit of a pharmaceutical representative position, but would like to continue playing football if given the chance.

The young talent that the Panthers have on their roster for next season has Fanti feeling optimistic about their chances next season. Eastern will retain its entire starting offensive line and three running backs: junior Korliss Marshall, red-shirt sophomore Malik Harrison and red-shirt junior Devin Church.

There’s also a starting defensive player returning next year, whom Fanti felt did not get the recognition he deserved.

“I think (junior linebacker) Seth McDonald got robbed this year,” Fanti said. “He had over 100 (109) tackles this year and didn’t even earn all-conference or second team. But next year there’s no doubt in my mind he can be defensive player of the year next year. “

Fanti’s legacy will be forever etched in the Eastern record books. He set the school’s single season record for TFLs of 19 and broke the career record of 45.

 

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]