Mt. San Antonio College defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo has spent that last 15-years of his life climbing mountains.
Today, he may have conquered his highest peak. With a scholarship offer from USC in hand, Fangupo became a Trojan.
“I got a call from Pete Carroll, and basically, the entire staff at SC,” said Fangupo. “Coach Carroll said that he wanted me to be a Trojan for life, and I told him, ‘Coach, you say the word and I’m on my way’.”
With that, Fangupo became commitment No. 11 in the Trojans’USC lands class of 2009.
“It feels like I moved a mountain off my shoulders,” said Fangupo. “Playing at USC is a dream come true because a lot of people said that I’d never make it this far. They said that I’d never be good enough to play at USC.
“There was a lot of pressure because I’m not just playing for myself. I’m playing for the future of my brothers and sisters as well. To set a goal, and actually get there … I’m speechless man.”
Earlier this month, recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll, defensive coordinator Nick Holt and defensive line coach David Watson made the trip to Walnut (Calif.) to watch Fangupo practice in person. While those visits served to show how serious USC was about recruiting the 6-foot-1, 330-pound defensive tackle, Fangupo remained uncertain of Pete Carroll’s plans.
“Yeah, I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” said Fangupo. “I was actually fighting through shin splints and an ankle injury the day USC’s coaches came to watch me practice. The pain was deep, but I had to fight through it.
“I had to impress them. USC is not going to come out to watch me not practice because I’m hurt. I had a chance to make my dream happen, so I wasn’t going to let any amount of pain stop me,”
At age 8, Fangupo accidentally burned down his family’s house by playing with matches in the garage. Hebron and his parents were forced to move from the United States to his family’s native country of Tonga.
With the majority of his relatives still living in Tonga, today’s news was bitter sweet.
“I called my mom, and she cried,” said Fangupo. “She said, ‘Son this is what you wanted. Now I know I raised a man, because you set a goal and achieved it.’ She know I’ve conquered a lot of fears.
“A lot of people doubted me, and I proved them wrong. But she also told me, ‘Loni, stay humble’.
“The only negative was that she couldn’t be there to hear why USC offered me a scholarship. I would’ve liked for her to have been there with me.”
Playing eight games last season after returning from his Mormon Mission in the Philippines, Fangupo had a modest 21 tackles and two sacks in 2007. But with scholarship offers from Tennessee, Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State already on the table, college coaches flooded Mt. SAC in May to witness the raw potential Fangupo displayed.
“From a physical standpoint, he has all the tools to be a great player,” said Brad Hoiseth of JCGridiron.com. “He’s like getting a 7-foot center in basketball. He has the tools that you can’t teach. With the right coaches, he’ll play in the NFL.”