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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Farrington HS (Honolulu, HI): Sam Fehoko

Farrington HS (Honolulu, HI): Senior Defensive End Sam Fehoko

Sam Fehoko spends his Sundays pulling the family's 5,000-pound Navigator in the Keehi Lagoon parking lot. Fehoko, a Farrington defensive end, is being recruited by many college teams. CLICK FOR LARGE

Setting a high standard

Senior defensive end Sam Fehoko is one reason why the Governors are an OIA East powerhouse

SUNDAYS are a day of rest, at least for some folks.

Lunches and dinners at home, quiet time with the kids, maybe even a get-together to watch Sunday Night Football on TV.

Sam Fehoko has all of the above. After all, pulling a 5,000-pound Lincoln Navigator on Sunday afternoons is no reason to mess up quiet time with the family.

So it is, in a parking lot at Keehi Lagoon, that the Farrington senior logs some mileage by pulling the family car up and down the pavement. He makes not a single sound, other than the scraping of his sneakers on bits of loose gravel. The Navigator, with his dad, 300-pound Vili Fehoko at the wheel, rolls quietly. Vili smiles.

For Sam, who has helped No. 5-ranked Farrington, which visits Mililani on Friday, march toward a possible league title, there are no days off. Before anyone cries out a claim of child abuse, know that he is far from being a child. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound defensive end never stops training, in or out of season. There are weights in his house. He and the Fehoko clan often train at 24-Hour Fitness in Mililani.

Then, there's the annual Strongman competition, hence the weekly car-pulling hobby. A normal child doesn't bench-press 225 pounds 30 times. Even Pisa Tinoisamoa didn't rep that weight that many times as a high school senior. In fact, Tinoisamoa repped 225 five times as a UH freshman.

It may be unfair to compare Fehoko, who runs a respectable 4.7 in the 40-yard dash, to the speedy Tinoisamoa, but there's one thing they have in common: A multitude of schools are chasing Fehoko with great intent. Can Oklahoma, a bastion of defensive domination, be totally wrong?

THE TREND IS DEFENSIVE. At the University of Hawaii, 17 of 25 scholarships last offseason went to defensive players. Across the islands, elite defensive ends are impossible to ignore. Scott Smith and Solomona Aigamaua of Saint Louis are classic bookends. Andrew Noga of Farrington has been a playmaker.

Fehoko has been stellar, if not supreme. With 22.5 sacks, 28 hurries and 56 tackles, Fehoko is still just one of the many anchors of Farrington's remarkable defensive unit. Despite an early-season ankle injury, his mobility and agility haven't been compromised. With three forced fumbles and four pass deflections, a few of the 11 schools that have offered Fehoko a scholarship want him to play outside linebacker.

Fehoko is an honor-roll student with numbers in the classroom that rival his football accolades. He carries a 3.6 cumulative grade-point average and scored a 1,360 on the SAT, numbers that make him an easy NCAA Division I qualifier.

He has learned away from the campus and weight rooms, though, from the experiences of his older brother. When Whitley Fehoko gave Utah an early commitment last year, then went on to visit four other campuses, recruiters went into a tailspin. Nobody was happy with the shopping style of Whitley, who was also a hard-working student-athlete. Whitley wound up at San Diego State and has cracked the starting offensive line as a true freshman.

Sam also has a goal of starting next year as a true freshman. He just doesn't want the circus that came with Whitley's approach.

"I've always looked at him to encourage me, to always push me. He's a great role model. He set the bar high for me," Sam said. "But with recruiting, all he tells me is to be patient. He said, 'Just wait 'til I take my trips.' "

THE PROSPECT of taking recruiting trips, or even wearing a Farrington uniform, seemed unlikely three years ago. Sam and Whitley were enrolled at Saint Louis, but left due to financial constraints. Vili, known near and far as Vili the Warrior, and wife, Linda, asked their sons to consider transferring to a public school.

The boys didn't blink. They blended into Farrington quickly and easily, but maintained their academic goals. Between the Fehoko brothers, Shawn Lauvao (now at Arizona State) and a number of other Govs, excellence on the field has transferred to the classroom for an increasing number of players.

"Players on my team, they're taking the SATs now, seeing the success of my brother, Shawn and Logo (Fonoti)," Sam said.

Whitley has cautioned his parents to let Sam follow his destiny. Vili and his sons have pounded the war drums at Aloha Stadium for years now, constant fixtures at UH games. Yet, he refuses to sway Sam in any direction. Linda denies that she wants Sam to join his brother at San Diego State.

Sam won't favor any of the universities that have made him an offer, and there are many: Arizona, BYU, Hawaii, Houston, New Mexico State, Oklahoma, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, Utah and Weber State. They saw him up close at the camps aplenty: Poly, Utah, BYU, Just Win (Maui). They saw him run a 4.69 40 at the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance combine last summer.

He'll visit SDSU on Dec. 9. A visit to Arizona, set for Nov. 25, is up in the air because of a potential conflict with the state tournament.

"It's hard during the recruiting process because they all want you to visit," said Fehoko, who still bangs the drums at UH home games. Nowadays, he does more than drum. Warriors coach Jeff Reinebold has cast his line into local waters, and the widespread effect has been undeniable.

"They've been really recruiting me hard. At the UH games, he has me stand by him inside the locker room," Fehoko said. "After that, I drum."

Other potential UH recruits spot Fehoko on the drums and chuckle.

"I still get cheered by my peers, but drumming drives me to be a better athlete. You're performing for thousands of people. That's what I've been taught. I'm not ashamed of taking off my shirt and doing the haka," he said. "It all relates to being on the field. One play can make all the difference."

THEY DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER. When Vili Jr. and Breiden, his younger brothers, want to see a movie, Sam is the chaperone. He couldn't stand "Chronicles of Narnia," but the baby brothers claim it was Sam's choice.

"I know when I'm off in college, I won't be able to see them," Sam said.

He sees himself in them and proclaims that V.J., a freshman at Farrington, will be the best athlete of the family.

"When I was a freshman, I was flabby. I didn't even play that year. I kept working on it after the season," Sam said. "There's always room for improvement."

That includes academics, where Linda has been a drill sergeant year after year.

"Honestly, I think it comes from the home. If the parents don't talk about education, if it's not a factor, the kids will do whatever they want. And a lot of them have too much freedom," Sam said. "At Farrington, we're looked at as bad kids, but not everybody is like that. We welcome everyone. I was welcomed when I came in."

If Linda is the academic taskmaster, Vili is the field general. Since last year, he has videotaped the practice sessions at Farrington, fine-tuning technique afterward at home. That goes for both Sam and V.J., who plays junior varsity ball.

"I told Whitley, 'Raise the bar higher for Sam.' Now I tell Sam to do the same thing for V.J.," Vili said.

So, on a Sunday afternoon, they pull the Navigator. Sam hauls the car 10, 20, 30 yards with ease. V.J. isn't quite there yet. When it's over, the brothers toss a football to each other as their parents relax and reminisce.

Quiet Sundays with the family, indeed.

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