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Friday, September 25, 2009

Fehoko carries on family tradition

Five games into the season, linebacker V.J. Fehoko has made at least four sacks in each game for Farrington High School (Honolulu). After every sack, he points to a special group of his fans in the crowd -- his family.

V.J. Fehoko
V.J. Fehoko plans to announce his college decision at the Under Armour All-American Game.

"I just let them know that they're my main priority and that I love them and they're the reason I'm out there hitting quarterbacks," he said. "I love seeing them at games."

Last season, the No. 4-ranked linebacker in the ESPNU 150 led the state in sacks with 20, and had 86 tackles (18 for loss), one interception and one fumble recovery. If that performance didn't raise the expectations for V.J., his last name did. V.J.'s two older brothers played football at Farrington, and both now play at Division I college programs -- Whitley signed with San Diego State in 2006, and Sam signed with Texas Tech in 2007.

"A lot of people ask, 'Are you going to be as good as your brothers?' but to me, I didn't look at it that way," V.J. said. "I knew that I would know everything they know and more. My own styles and everything come into it, so I never looked at it that way."

Farrington coach Randall Okimoto, who has known the Fehoko family since V.J. was in fifth grade, says there is no competition between the brothers, just encouragement.

"I think he embraces it, you know, the meaning of family, so he listens to his older brothers. … [They] give him real good advice, so I don't think there's any pressure, any need to feel like he has to live up to their names or fill their shoes, so to speak. He knows that he has their support and that he can do what V.J. likes to do or wants to do."

The brothers became close through football. When they were younger, their father, Vili, sat them down and asked them what they wanted to do when they grew up. Whitley, Sam and V.J. all said they wanted to play football.

And so their training -- and bonding -- began.

"We woke up at 4 in the morning to go run hills at a military base and push our Lincoln Navigator for a mile and stuff like that. That really pushed us to be the football players that we are," said V.J., who added that having older brothers to play and practice with also helped him.

For the Fehoko brothers, education is the reward for all their efforts on and off the field.

"In our family, we're not wealthy, so everything we work for, we basically earn it. I see that I can go to college for free and fulfill my dream. And to me, I thought that was the best thing in the world, doing something you love to do every day and then compete for it," said V.J., who has narrowed his list of top schools to Hawaii, Texas Tech, Utah, Utah State and Washington.

Whitley, Sam and V.J. talk to each other every day. V.J. says his brothers give him advice on recruitment.

"My brothers both are so supportive. One thing that I know and my brothers told me is that I got to go and see all my trips for myself if I fit in that program," he said. V.J. has one official visit planned so far, a trip to Texas Tech on Nov. 20.

His brothers also help him with drills and tips to improve him game, like how to read the other team's offense.

"I try to play like a college player because that's the way I'm coached," he said. "My brothers teach me everything from ball get-off to explosion to rapid fire and working a lot with your hands and techniques, so it comes from everywhere."

V.J., who has a 3.6 GPA, says he feels no pressure about making his college decision. He adds that it's not the same for his father, who feels the heat from most of the population of Hawaii. Vili Fehoko is Vili the Warrior, the University of Hawaii's mascot. While people think of his dad as the guy they see on the sidelines of UH games, V.J. thinks of him as a friend, coach and great guy.

"He's sacrificed so much for me, and I think that my dad gets so much pressure out here," he said. "Two of his sons going away to other colleges and not choosing Hawaii, he gets a lot of pressure out here. But he's so supportive and he's just like my brothers; he wants me to go where I'll be happy."

V.J. plans to announce where he will play in college at the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2. He says his recruitment process is picking up and coaches are calling every day. He tells the coaches that he will play his heart out for them, no matter what position he plays.

"I have coaches tell me that I'm built like an inside linebacker but I move like an outside linebacker and I rush like a defensive end, so I say I don't really care where you put me as long as I'm on the field. And as long as I get to hit somebody, I think I'll be happy."

Okimoto knows first-hand how V.J.'s passion translates to his performance on the field.

"You can tell when you have a good player because they elevate the game of everybody else on your team, and that's what he does. He does it through his play, not by talking. His motivation is how he plays. He plays with a lot of heart, a lot of passion, and he's very consistent week in and week out," Okimoto said.

V.J. takes football and family seriously, and he is passing the football legacy to his younger brother, Breiden. V.J. (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) is channeling his older brothers and is teaching the game to his middle-school-aged brother.

"I think my little brother's probably going to be the best," he said. "I tell him every single thing that I know about the game. Not only is he mentally ready, but he's physically almost my size, so I think he's going to be real scary."

Having the support of his parents and brothers has helped V.J. develop into a highly touted player in the Class of 2010. He credits his parents with his on- and off-the-field success, which is why he always points to them in the crowd after making a big play.

"They go crazy," he said about his parents' reaction in the stands. "It means a lot to them. All I want to do is make my family proud and hopefully do really well while I'm doing it."

Julie Turner is a recruiting editor for ESPN.com.

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