One of the challenges that the Macalester College coaching staff face is that the academic standards at the school are so high that many of the athletes they would normally like to see suit up in a Fighting Scots uniform are denied to them long before they can even say hello to a prospective student. This means that they have to go the extra mile to find an exceptional student-athlete who not only stars in the classroom but also has the skill set to be a difference maker on the field. This often means that they have to go to extensive work to track down the very best of the best.
That is the tough pathway Head Coach Tony Jennison and his staff are forced to endure at times. However, there are those instances when a student just drops into their lap and becomes a real difference maker for the team. That is the tale of Fabian Arrizon, the man affectionately known as “DJ Fabio.”
Go East Young Man
Long before deciding that Macalester College was the place he would go to further his academic pursuits, Fabian Arrizon was already making a name for himself, both on the field and in the classroom. The Mount Eden High School graduate was a recipient of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award, earned East Bay Officials Association Award for Outstanding Academic and Athletic Performance Award, as well as winning the All-Academic Varsity Award. He was a Dean’s List recipient and named to the Hayward Area Athletic League Defensive First-Team.
As he entered his senior year, Fabian was aware that his academic success would make him a highly sought after recruit for many colleges, and he began his college search looking at the University of California system as well as Ivy League schools. While those colleges and universities appealed to him, he wanted to make sure that he could play football as well.
As he was beginning to narrow his choices, the Fighting Scots head football coach, Tony Jennison, reached out to Fabian wondering if he was interested in coming to Macalester to continue his academic pursuits. He was excited that Coach Jennison was interested, but had to ask himself where in the world was Macalester College?
“In September, Coach Jenison reached out to me. I was excited because it was a head football coach. When he said ‘I’m from Macalester,’ I had no idea where that was. I had never heard of the school.”
The opportunity to play at Macalester really had Fabian’s attention and so he had to do one of the things he is truly exceptional at – study.
“So I did my research, and I looked more into the school. I saw it had high academic standing nationwide, it was well-known for a small classroom environment, and it wasn’t considered a really big school. It was a lot different from the schools I had been looking at. Coach J really opened the door to having a different perspective about what college should be like. Since I grew up in California where everything is big, I never really thought about the fact that I didn’t need to go somewhere where it wasn’t a really big environment.”
Coach Jennison also offered Fabian something that was very important to him. While not having professional aspirations, he still wanted to play football, and Macalester looked like the ideal place to continue his athletic career.
“The opportunity to continue playing football as a hobby, not as a way to get into the NFL, was a big draw. This was one of three school that was interested in me playing football. All the other schools were interested in me only for academics.”
The decision became a no brainer for the future Fighting Scot. Macalester was the place for Fabian, but he knew he had one major hurdle to overcome – what his parents were going to think about him moving 1500 miles away from home?
“I had a different response from my mom than from my dad. My mom told me that’s really far away, I hear it’s cold over there, how are you going to take care of yourself, but my dad he really liked the idea of me getting the opportunity to mature while getting the opportunity to be more independent. To get the opportunity to slowly start moving me away from the nest.”
While concerned about their son being so far away, both wanted what was best for their son, and meeting and getting to know Coach Jennison made a big difference to the whole family.
“This was one school of four that accepted me. When I weighted the options with my family – playing football, financially, academic rigor, and financial aid – when I compared all these together, Macalester really fell on top. What sealed the deal was when coach J actually came out to visit me and my family. He came out to see a number of different students that were prospective athletes, but he prioritized coming to see me and that for my family was everything. They got to meet him and really learned to trust him on the spot that he was going to be a good mentor here. They knew he was going to look out after me since my family was so far away.”
Fabian was sold that Macalester was the spot for him, but he did have one pressing question.
“I really wanted to know how he knew about me in the first place. I didn’t send in a request or anything, so that made me curious. He explained that my name was on a list of students who had high academic performance and who also wanted to play football. It really made a big difference that he reached out to me and made recruiting me a priority for his program.”
Choosing the Ideal Academic Pathway
One of the most important decisions that a student will have to make in their life is what will be his or her major. For many they choose an option and stick with it, taking that pathway all the way to their career field.
For others, they learn in college that what they had envisioned for themselves when they first came to the school is not what they want later on. While the option to change majors is available at any college or university, doing so at some can become quite costly and extend the time they are in the school. Other institutions make sure that they do all they can to help the student to have the best chance to succeed and to do it on schedule.
This was the challenge that Fabian was facing. He entered Macalester College as a political science major, but realized that economics was more in line with what he wanted to do. He not only is about to finish that major, something he feels he will do well in, but has added an additional area of focus along the way.
“I like it because it’s more of the empirical side rather than the theoretical side. So I’m finishing up my Econ major at the same time I picked up applied math. I see myself more as an applied math, a computer guy.”
Macalester College gave Fabian the opportunity to easily switch his major while still remaining on schedule to graduate in four years. They have prepared him to move to the next phase of his life, now he is just trying to figure out what that exactly will be.
“I am looking to be a data analyst. That’s kind of my career goal. Right out of college I’m considering graduate school in analytics or statistics. Hopefully I’ll find out in April what schools I got into, where my options lie. Then after graduate school I will go straight into a career in data analytics.”
As he prepares to move onto the next phase of his academic career, he is thankful for the opportunities that Macalester College has given him. He has recognized that the lessons they have taught really opened up his mind and gave him a chance to explore the world like never before.
“That’s one of the values here at Macalester. They really want students to open their minds and acquire new perspectives. Here you don’t really specialize in one thing, and that probably has a lot to do with why I don’t want to focus on one area in data analytics when I graduate. I want to take the given skills I have acquired through my academic coursework and use it in many ways. I could see myself working for the government for some time, working in the tech industry, and the medical industry. They have given me the tools so that I could work in many different areas which is what I want to do.”
Helping to Make His World a Much Bigger Place
One of the things that Fabian has loved about Macalester is how the college has made the school a lot bigger than the sidewalks and perimeter that surround it. It has opened doors to him so that he can experience what is out in the world.
“You can connect with professors, and they have their own networks of people. It’s so easy for students to have access to those networks even though you may only know four professors really well. The ease in which you can access the people they know is amazing. You can go from a very small setting to a global setting really fast. I don’t see that happening in a larger school because professors have too many students, so they don’t provide the same kind of opportunities that you would have here.”
To accent this point, he is reminded of a specific example that depicts exactly what he is talking about.
“I precept for a data computing class here, with Professor Danny Kaplan. Recently, he was just talking with me about how he went to California for some tech summit, and the idea came that I should ask what kind of people that he networked with. I asked him if there were any students or others that he connected with that had my kind of skills, and he told me that ya, there was a company that was looking for a data analyst, and so he just told me to send him an email and he would connect me with them.”
“What makes it easy is their willingness to give you the abundance of information,” he adds.
The Experience on the Field Can’t Be Beat
Of course, one of the primary reasons that Fabian wanted to come to Macalester was to play football. Thankfully, for him, his experience on the gridiron has been an exceptional one, something that players at the school have come to expect. His coaches and teammates have become an integral part of his life and made football a huge part of who is as a person.
“Football in high school was less structured and there were less dynamics. High school football was just a you came and practiced, practice ended and everybody went their own way. Here it is so much more integrated – to your life, to your academics, to your social life – that you are always thinking football. It’s a priority here. It’s a good priority because the coaches here are so helpful in helping you get started. I came in here from very far away and I didn’t know who I could come to talk to, who I could trust, and my coaches, my teammates, my peers made it really easy to just fit in and not worry about whether I was going to be alone. I’m always surrounded by the football environment.”
Through the years his time on the field has grown. Fabian did not play a lot in his freshman season, as he was acclimating himself to the rigors of college football. However, one play made a huge difference for him, and has left an indelible mark even today.
“My freshman year I remember when I got to play for the first time. I got in, and on the second play I got my first tackle and that jacked me up. I wrapped him up and tackled him and I looked over onto the sideline and all the upperclassmen were cheering me on. It wasn’t like a big tackle, it was my first hit, but they made a really big deal out of it. I was new and they really rewarded me, and that kind of rooted my loyalty to the team right then and there. These guys, whether through good or bad, are always there for me. That was a highlight.”
In his sophomore season the coaches moved him to outside linebacker, and he played in four games, making six tackles and forcing a fumble. His junior season, Fabian was an integral part of the linebacker rotation, appearing in all 10 games, making 24-tackles, an interception and 5 pass breakups.
The senior played in nine games this past year and was a real force. He finished with 42 tackles, including a season high nine against Ripon. He also had an interception and blocked a kick. He always seemed to be involved in plays, which Fabian truly understood was important since he was one of the leaders of the team.
“This past season was a real highlight for me as well, primarily because I was a senior and had to step up. There was a big expectation from my group especially after coming off such a successful season. Even though it was a challenge, I saw it as an opportunity to grow and an opportunity for me to kind of carry the team.”
His commitment to the team was something that really stood out to his head coach. “Fabian was a real leader this last season, which made a big difference. We had a lot of key seniors graduate in 2015, and we needed some guys to step up,” explains Coach Jennison. “He clearly distinguished himself with his play and the way he carried himself.”
So How Did He Get That Nickname?
Many players will remember key plays they made in games or big moments in victories, but a memory that stands out most to Fabian Arrizon is the nickname he was given his freshman year. It has become a lasting legacy for many reasons.
“They know me as DJ Fabio which I think is one of the funniest nicknames I’ve ever had. My freshman year I was notorious for always playing music and being able to uplift the crowd, whether it was at a party or in the locker room. The seniors, my freshman year, started calling me ‘DJ’ and eventually more and more people bought into it and that became my nickname. I think it’s just hilarious. All the guys each have a nickname based on something specific to a characteristic or something about them. It’s part of what makes things really fun here.”
It is likely that 20 years from now, if he was to call up a teammate, they would still be calling him “DJ Fabio.” That may be a legacy of his time at Macalester College, but so will many other things.
One of the things that teammates and coaches have come to respect and appreciate about Fabian Arrizon is the fact that he rose to every challenge presented to him. There was no quit. No complaining. No desire to make excuses. He embraced the challenges and took full advantage of every opportunity he received, both on the field and in the classroom. The results are a guy that players and coaches knew they could depend upon.
At this point Fabian is not really sure what his career path will look like. He knows he is well prepared and has a real fervor for his areas of interest. With his genius and dedication there is no doubt he will be a huge success in the private or public sector, or both if he so chooses. Who knows, DJ Fabio may even make it big in the music world. Maybe those seniors knew something he didn’t.
We Would Like to Thank Jody Russell Photography for Providing Some Images Used in this Story
By Robert Pannier