In Focus: Breiden Fehoko
There was something missing for Breiden Fehoko.
It wasn't production. He had plenty of that as a freshman at Texas Tech, playing in 10 games in his first season and tallying 19 tackles, 4.0 for loss, with a sack and an interception.
It wasn't accoldates. He got plenty of those, too, earning All-Big 12 honorable mention from the league's coaches and popping up on a few freshman All-American lists.
It was something else, a feeling that he had another step to take in his career, that led him to transfer to LSU after his sophomore season in Lubbock.
"I felt like something was missing," Fehoko says. "And it to me, it wasn't off the field. It was development. It was more the approach to the game of football. When I got here to LSU, I looked at how hands on the coaches were, I looked at how important football was and what it meant to the city, what football meant to everybody in this building. And I wanted to be a part of that."
So Fehoko took what he calls a "leap of faith," sitting out the 2017 season to redshirt and spend his final two years of college in Baton Rouge. As that time nears an end, Fehoko looks back on his decision with an ear-to-ear smile seen often around LSU's football operations facility for the last three years.
Fehoko is part of the family. And nothing means more to him than family.
"Coach O is really like a second father when I walk in this building," Fehoko says. "He's always going to keep it real with me. Coach O's never steered me wrong. He's never told me anything that I wanted to hear. He's always told me things I didn't want to hear, and that's what you want to coach. And it goes for everybody below Coach O to the rest of the coaches. Coach (Dave) Aranda, Coach (Bill) Johnson, Meatball (Dennis Johnson), they've all told me things I don't want to hear, but it's to make me better. It's made me a better player since I've been here. And for me, it's raised my level of play, and I'm forever grateful LSU for that."
No one understands family like Fehoko, who comes from an intimate, close-knit Hawaian family. His father, Vili, is the former mascot for the University of Hawaii – "Vili the Warrior." His mother is an educator. His three older brothers, Whitley, Sam, and V.J., all played college football.
"I'm not going to lie," Fehoko laughs. "Being the youngest, I got spoiled. My brothers, as much as they could, never allowed it, but whenever I was by myself, my mother spoiled me rotten."
Fehoko took his lumps, though. When he wasn't getting roughed up by his older siblings, he was getting roughed up on the football field. As a middle schooler, his parents signed a permission slip for him to participate in a high school camp at the University of Hawaii, where Aranda – now Fehoko's defensive coordinator – was then defensive coordinator.
"The first day I got my butt whooped so bad," Fehoko laughs. "I came to the side crying after my brothers. They were all just super mad. They let me have it."
Family isn't just a matter of genetic relation in Hawaii. Their word for family is "Ohana," and it connects neighbors and friends into a larger circle, a closer community.
"Everybody was family in Hawaii," Fehoko says. "Regardless of your skin color, regardless of your race or ethnicity, everybody was a brother, a sister, an auntie and uncle. That's the type of environment I grew up in."
Family was part of Fehoko's formation, and it remains a part of his foundation. The Fehoko family makes every game in Baton Rouge, catching stand-by flights from Hawaii or Lubbock and often arriving as late as 1 or 2 a.m. the day before a game. Little sleep or not, they always bring the energy on game day, whether it's in the form of pregame Haka dances during the Tiger Walk or camera-attracting celebrations in the stands.
It's hard work, but that's what family does in the Fehokos' world. They are now as much a part of LSU's Ohana as LSU is a part of theirs. It's exactly what Fehoko was looking for. He's found the missing piece and made it a part of his Ohana.
"When I came here, you always hear, 'This place is like a family,'" Fehoko says. "But this place really is a family."