For Breiden Fehoko, one of the best parts about making the Los Angeles Chargers’ 2022 regular-season roster was breaking the good news to his family.
The thick-chested, 300-pound defensive lineman with burly arms described the experience to a group of reporters as “emotional.”
After a flurry of texts and calls, Fehoko’s parents and bride-to-be all shed tears of joy at the news. One brother mistakenly thought Fehoko had been cut from the team and tried to console him until he realized the truth, then he cried as well.
The following Sunday, everyone came together in a video meeting for family home evening, and Breiden Fehoko told about his eventful week. He thanked everyone for their support of his achievement. It was a seminal moment for the whole Fehoko family.
“I’ve been cut twice,” Fehoko told the news media. “It’s just been one of those rides where I’ve always had to battle from the bottom up. I had to grind for everything I got. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Breiden’s story begins in Laie, Hawaii, where his parents, Vili and Linda Fehoko, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, met each other at Brigham Young University–Hawaii and both worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
He was in the Tongan village and she was in the Fiji village. They ended up dancing together in the center’s night show.
They continued to perform at the PCC for years after they married and started having children.
“Backstage, that’s where my boys discovered Polynesian culture. It was so important to me and Linda,” Vili Fehoko said. “And we wanted our kids, our family, to be together most all the time. We did everything together.”
The family bonding continued in 2000 when Vili Fehoko became “Vili the Warrior,” the team mascot for the University of Hawaii. As father donned war paint, danced, pounded the drums and pumped up the crowds, his sons were right there with him on the field, falling in love with college football.
As a result, the “warrior mentality” of faith, family and football was infused in Breiden Fehoko and his brothers at an early age.
“I always, always approach everything with a warrior mentality,” he said. “A warrior, to me, is a person who is fearless, a person who is strong, and I don’t just mean physically, I mean mentally, spiritually and physically. A warrior never gives up. ... I take that warrior mentality with me and use it every day. I’m thankful to my Dad because he instilled that in us at a young age.”
Vili Fehoko always wanted his boys to play college football. He had played the game and had a tryout with the Canadian Football League that “didn’t go so well,” he said, “but college football was always the goal” for his sons.
It came to pass. Whitley Fehoko played on the offensive line for San Diego State University. Sam Fehoko was a linebacker and later a graduate assistant coach for Texas Tech University. V.J. Fehoko was a linebacker for the University of Utah.
Breiden Fehoko said he was heavily recruited by almost every school in the nation but followed his older brother to Texas Tech.
“Family was a huge part of my decision,” he said.
After two seasons Fehoko decided to transfer. Once again, all the major programs were interested, including Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn. He chose to play for Louisiana State University and then-head coach Ed Orgeron.
“For the best of my career, I wanted to get some consistency in coaching, consistency in my development as a defensive lineman,” Fehoko said. “To be a better football player, I also wanted to play a higher level of competition.”
Once again, the Fehoko family came together. Vili Fehoko retired “Vili the Warrior” so he could attend his son’s games. He and his older sons developed a tradition of meeting Breiden before kickoff to perform the haka dance.
All the hard work paid off Breiden Fehoko’s senior year when his LSU Tigers capped a magical season with a 42-25 victory over the Clemson Tigers to win the national championship.
Fehoko, always a fan favorite, holds that season close to his heart because first, the Tigers found a way to win in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one of the most hostile environments in college football; and second, because he learned valuable lessons of teamwork and accountability in his team’s run to the national title.
“What was special about it was the coaches didn’t have to motivate us, man, we kept each other accountable. None of the guys in the room wanted to disappoint each other,” he said. “Everybody held each other to the higher standard and that was standard operating procedure at LSU — perfection.”
Grinding it out in the NFL
Despite his college success, Fehoko was not selected in the NFL draft and signed with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent.
He was waived just before the 2020 season and signed to the practice squad. He was activated for two games in the middle of the season, then returned to the practice squad.
The 2021 season followed a similar pattern, although he was promoted to the active roster near the end of the year.
When he finally made the Chargers’ regular-season roster this season, his parents and family couldn’t hold back the tears.
“As a dad, I was superproud. I cried. My wife cried. We were so happy,” Vili Fehoko said. “Breiden worked so hard.”
What motivated Breiden Fehoko to keep going during those first two years?
“Seeing my family every day, seeing my loved ones, my fiancee, the people that never stopped believing in me,” Fehoko said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, that it would be a grind. What ultimately helped was surrounding myself with those people and trusting in the process. That’s why I get so emotional when I talk about it, seeing my work pay off, it tells me and shows me I’m doing the right things.”
Fehoko also acknowledged his Latter-day Saint faith and heaven’s blessings. His daily routine includes morning and evening prayers, as well as a prayer before he takes the field. He also keeps an eye open for the full-time missionaries so he can offer to take them for something to eat.
“Being raised in a family of faith, I knew there was always a divine power and always a bigger meaning for what I was doing,” he said. “So I trusted that process and every day just try to live right and be a good person.”