This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
With his flowing dark hair, solid, 5-foot-11, 223-pound frame and hard-hitting attitude, Utah sophomore linebacker V.J. Fehoko has earned the nickname "The Hawaiian Warrior."
While he might look the part, Fehoko hopes this year he can make his nickname more about his game than his looks.
"Every time I step on the field I want to let someone know who I am," he said. "I want them to think, 'Who hit me?' I want to get them out."
Ahh, you have to love the smack talk of spring ball. Fehoko saw time in just seven regular season games in 2011, finishing with just one solo tackle and three assists, yet he speaks with the confidence of an all-conference player.
Who knows, maybe by the end of the 2012 season, his hopes of having a reputation will play out for him. He certainly has a chance to prove himself, given Utah's need for linebackers.
The graduation of Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez left major holes to fill at linebacker. Junior Trevor Reilly is anchoring the depth chart at stud, but the middle and rover spots are still up for grabs. Fehoko has been getting the most snaps at middle, ahead of freshman LT Filiaga, while senior Dave Fagergren, junior Victor Spikes and freshman Jared Norris are battling for the rover spot.
While Fehoko's experience is limited, the fact that he has some is giving him an edge, said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
"He is the guy until someone beats him out," he said. "He's been running with the ones and doing a nice job. Getting those reps last fall has helped him."
Fehoko knows it will be a challenge to move from little-used backup to starter, but he is ready to be tested. A U.S. Army, Nike and Under Armour All-American out of Farrington High School in Honolulu, Fehoko had his pick of major college destinations offering him all kinds of glories if he signed with them.
He went with the Utes because of what they didn't offer.
"They guaranteed me they'd make me a better person and make me work hard," he said of the Utes. "That was different from everyone else. The other schools said things like, 'You'll come in and be the star,' or this and that. Utah kept it real and told me they were going to make me work and be the best I can be. That is what I wanted, someone to push me."
Fehoko, who earned the U.S. Army Bowl award for "Hardest Hitter in the Nation," fits into Utah's defensive mentality of being a scrappy but physical bunch. Still a young player, Fehoko might not always know where he is going or what he is supposed to do, but such details don't prevent him from going hard.
"He is a real tough guy who loves being physical," safety Brian Blechen said. "As a whole we like to fly around and make big hits as a defense, and we expect big hits from him all season."
As little as he played last year, Fehoko said he learned to make his reps count. He plans to do that again this season, even if he is getting more time as a starter.
"I learned last year there aren't any re-dos," he said. "You have to go out there and do what you are supposed to do and succeed or you fail. The coaches have prepared me to succeed and now I'm kicking it in. I want to have the mentality that the house is burning down and you're like a fireman, you've got to go in there and get after it."
V.J. Fehoko file
Height/Weight • 5-11/223. Class • Sophomore
Hometown • Honolulu
Noteworthy • Slated to be a starter in 2012 after playing sparingly in 2011. … ESPN Top 150 and Sporting News Top 100 rated player coming out of high school. … U.S. Army Bowl honoree for being the "Hardest Hitter in the Nation" ... Brother Sam is a senior linebacker at Texas Tech and brother Whitley played offensive line for San Diego State.