DETROIT - Joseph Fauria is in his second season with the Detroit Lions, but the road to the NFL wasn't always smooth.
The man who wears No. 80 became a household name after he turned the end zone into a dance floor. His fun and funky touchdown dances even caught the attention of Jimmy Fallon.
"You watch football to be entertained. Yeah, there are people who are really knowledgeable of the game but there are also people who are watching with those knowledgeable people that don't know what's going on. So they want to be entertained. That Fallon thing was for a great cause. I got to donate $10,000 to Make-A-Wish of Michigan. It was also a way for people who probably don't watch the NFL, but who watch Jimmy Fallon, to know who I was. And to know that it was for a good cause and it's a good guy having fun."
But to really know Fauria, you have to know about his life off the field, too. He may have been raised in the shadows of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but his early life revolved around sports and family.
"My mom usually puts it in one thing: ‘Joseph, you were raised by a village,'" Fauria said.
His biological father was never in the picture, but that doesn't bother him.
"There's not really a severe void. I had it filled. I don't know any other way," Fauria said.
It does, however, give him a perspective on how he can be an impact on others.
"When you have that minimal time to be a part of a kid's life, whether it be an autograph or a picture, or just giving the kid a high-five or messin' with their head, or something like that, anything, that connection is such a big deal. It means so much to them," he said.
Fauria was focused on football early in his life. His uncle, Christian Fauria, spent more than a decade in the NFL.
"He won two Super Bowls and I got to go to both of them. That was an amazing, tremendous experience. I also saw him balance a family and I saw how he could support. I saw how much fun he was having when he was playing," Fauria said.
The 24-year-old developed his talent on the field in high school, which got him to the University of Notre Dame.
"My grandfather always wanted me to go there. All of his sons played college football but none of them went there. So I was kind of his last hurrah. I ended up going there on a full scholarship," Fauria said.
He didn't stay at Notre Dame. He transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles.
"Leaving that school was really difficult. It wasn't easy. It was your dream school," Fauria said. "But the transition wasn't bad because I did go back home. I didn't do my laundry, so that made it a lot easier."
At UCLA, Fauria shined.
The NFL was the logical next step, but it almost didn't happen.
"When it's draft day – day one, day two, day three – and on day three it's getting toward the end and you have all these people over to watch the draft with you. And they're playing board games and you're like playing board games to try to keep your mind off it while you're watching, blood boiling," Fauria said.
He went undrafted.
"I thought was it was going to happen, too. But it didn't. That was more so a wake-up call. It made me work harder. It made me understand how precious this is. How a privilege it is to be in the NFL," Fauria said. "It gave me a kick in the butt. It lit a little fire in me. It's something that I'll never forget and it'll always be a footnote in my career."
Not long after that, he got a call that the Lions wanted to give him a shot as a tight end.
"I was hell-bent on coming here and making a name for myself," Fauria said.
Fauria said he's reinventing himself as a well-rounded player.
"It was the same thing all over again. I wasn't going to rest on my laurels," he said. "I wasn't going to rest. I was still going to work my tail off."
It's paid off.
"Now that I'm set here, I'm living here, I'm building a life here. This is my home now. I want to make it my home and I also want to support and give back," Fauria said.
--Fauria's dog, Lil Rufio
He's hosting a FootGolf tournament on Sept. 23 at Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center. The proceeds will benefit the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. To register for the event, click here.
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