The emotional reunion of sorts and transformation occurred when the couple, with their youngest sons V.J. and Breiden, made an unexpected visit in June to the Provo university they decided years ago they wanted nothing to do with anymore. They came as a favor to a friend.
"A good friend of ours, Robert Anae [BYU offensive coordinator], invited us and all the Hawaii athletes at the All Poly Camp [Bountiful, Utah] for a special Junior Day at BYU," Vili said. "As we sat in the room and waited for the head coach, I turned to my wife and said, ‘This is funny; we are sitting at BYU and our two other sons attend other colleges.'"
Vili added: "When the head coach [Bronco Mendenhall] began talking to the kids and parents, everything he said was exactly what my wife and I believed and felt. It took me back to all those years I loved BYU football. The longer Coach Bronco talked, the more I felt a strong feeling of ‘I'm in. I'm back!' I felt like I was part of the program that I left years ago. I turned to my left and saw my wife tearing up, and said to her, ‘I wish Whitley [eldest son] came to BYU.'"
Linda vividly remembers the moment: "As I listened to Coach Mendenhall speak, it was hard for me to stop crying. As a mom, you are close to your boys as I am to all of them. When they go on to college, you want to be sure they have correct guidance and their spirituality continues. There are many distractions, guaranteed, but BYU has an environment that has a code of conduct that assures spiritual, academic and athletic well-being. It all begins in the home. That's what Coach Mendenhall emphasized to us parents. And as parents, you just want to get that confirmation sometimes. BYU is the kind of program you want your son to be in."
For anyone who has watched University of Hawaii football games since 2000, Vili Fehoko is instantly recognizable as the school's harmlessly intimidating Polynesian "warrior" mascot with his imposing muscled frame and bulging biceps. For many years prior to that, he was a mainstay star performer and crowd favorite at the LDS Church-owned Polynesian Cultural Center.
"Growing up in Laie," Vili recalled, "I was always a BYU fan. When I became involved with the UH [Hawaii] program, I cut all my ties with BYU. When my son, Whitley, signed with San Diego State, I started looking at BYU in a really competitive way. Even when we went up to Utah, I still did not care that much for BYU. In fact, we were much closer to Coach Whittingham and the Utah program."
The Fehoko's eldest son Whitley initially committed to the Utes before decommitting and signing with SDSU. The second son, Sam Earl Fehoko, defensive MVP for the West Team in the Third Annual All-American Bowl Game, signed to play this year at Texas Tech.
Even though times and sentiments have changed, BYU is not a lock for the eventual gridiron services of 14-year-old V.J. Fehoko (Farrington High), whose exceptional play last Saturday earned him and fellow freshman Kona Schwenke (Kahuku High) selection to Max Emfinger's Hawaii Super Combine All-Star team.
In an unprecedented move, Emfinger confirmed in a Total Blue Sports interview that both sophomores-to-be Fehoko and Schwenke impressed him enough to be pre-selected and invited to play in his prestigious 2010 annual All American Bowl Game Classic at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Mississippi, a game featuring the country's top high school seniors.
Emfinger, one of America's foremost and most respected college recruiting experts, owns and organizes All American Super Combines throughout the country annually. He referred to both Fehoko and Schwenke as "freaky sophomore phenoms," adding, "They're the first and only two sophomores I've selected for any of my 14 All-Combine teams around the country."
Last Saturday's 14 other All-Star recipients, covering all positions, included some of Hawaii's most coveted college recruits, who are all incoming seniors except for one junior.
"Neither one was blocked in any of the one-on-one drills – and they went up against some good offensive lineman. They have unbelievable freaky quickness," Emfinger remarked.
He added: "Normally I don't notice sophomores at these combines because they're not as skilled and are usually intimidated by the bigger, older athletes, but not these two. These young, good-looking athletes came out and beat everyone they went up against. That's just amazing."
Fehoko and Schwenke joined 121 other upperclassmen athletes from throughout Hawaii in head-to-head competition at Max Emfinger's first-ever All American Super Combine in the islands at Kamehameha School in Honolulu.
(Online link to the Max Emfinger 2007 Hawaii Super Combine All-Star Team: http://hi.digitalsports.com/conferences/7-oahu-hawaii/articles/2507- 1st-annual-all-american-bowl-game-super-combine )
The 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound Fehoko recorded a 4.69 forty, a 94-inch standing broad jump, a 1.66/10 yard shuttle, and a 4.6/20 yard shuttle with a 36 ½ inch vertical, and turned heads when he bench pressed 185 pounds an astounding 21 times, according to Emfinger.
"It's amazing as a sophomore for [Fehoko] to be doing 21 reps of 185 pounds," Emfinger commented. He projected Fehoko would either play defensive end or outside linebacker in college, depending on his eventual height.
Indeed, the humbling, humiliating and painful years of getting beat down and thrown about by his elder brothers in full contact one-on-one drills are finally beginning to pay off for Fehoko.
"V.J. started doing football drills with his older brothers when he was in the 6th or 7th grade. He was always crying because his older brothers punished him. He got thrown all over the place and that's how he learned," Vili recounted with a laugh.
"But V.J. is willing to take it to a different level than any of my other boys. He works harder and longer than any of them. After practice, he'll stay for hours doing up-downs and other exercises. Sometimes, we're so tired and we want to go home to eat, but V.J. just keeps working out until he can't go anymore," Vili noted.
Linda interjected: "I always hear Vili's familiar words to V.J.: ‘Champions do things without people watching.' That quote always echoes in my mind."
Vili added, "I always told my boys when all Hawaii is sleeping, the Fehoko's are running hills and pushing the Lincoln [family Lincoln Navigator SUV] at Keehi Lagoon to gain strength. V.J. is a great son. He's the kind of kid you always want to have around you. He cleans the house and does the laundry without us asking and he makes sure his mom and my parents get massages whenever they're tired. It just makes me proud."
Wife Linda added: "V.J. is the humblest kid off the field, but he told me and Vili he plays mad when he's on the field. He doesn't talk to anyone, hug them or shake anyone's hand before a game. After the game, he's laughing with them and hugging them."
After the BYU Junior Day, V.J. told his parents, "I could see myself going here. I really like the atmosphere and the coaches." The couple decided on the spot to register V.J. in BYU's non-contact football camp even though they had only planned for him to participate in the University of Utah camp.
"For me and Vili, we really loved our visit," Linda said. "At first, BYU wasn't even a consideration. Now with Bronco there, we feel a connection there again. What impressed V.J. the most was the team GPA of 2.98, the highest in the country. That's amazing."
V.J. currently carries a 3.8 GPA.
Vili added: "I don't force my kids to go anywhere, but as a parent, you want your kids to go to an environment that is best for them. If V.J. ends up at BYU, we don't have anything to worry about.
"When we talked to Coach Mendenhall afterwards, we really liked him. He's real. He talked about everything else except football at first. He talked about Laie, Hawaii and about the Church. He said he wants to bring BYU back to the great years again. He talked to us for a long time and then he said he would love to have V.J. there."
Though he has attended numerous camps and combines, V.J. rates the BYU camp as his best football camp experience so far. He told his parents he learned more techniques from that camp than any other.
V.J. earned one of the outstanding defensive lineman awards at the BYU camp. Because he was a freshman, Cougar coaches initially placed him with the junior varsity group, but he hurt several players so they moved him to the upper classmen group.
Under the direction of BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, V.J. was unstoppable and unblockable with the senior grouping. Kaufusi invited all the top offensive linemen, saying, "Who wants to step up to V.J. the unstoppable," Vili and Linda recalled. The 14-year-old V.J. Fehoko beat them all.
A week earlier at the Utah contact camp, his parents said head coach Coach Kyle Whittingham called him "The Lightning Fehoko" because of his speed and quickness. He also caught the eye of Texas A&M defensive line assistant Stan Eggan at the All Poly camp in Utah.
V.J.'s impressions of his BYU Junior Day unofficial visit: "Listening to Coach Mendenhall speaking about the program really made me think about qualities of a student athlete. I was not planning on attending the BYU camp, but decided to go after Junior Day.
"Coach Mendenhall's words, ‘If this is not the place for you, don't come here,' caught my attention. He was honest and made me more eager to learn about the school and the program. I was impressed to see BYU's overall GPA as a team.
"At the camp, I established a good relationship with Coach Kaufusi, who showed me a lot of fundamentals of the game that they don't teach nowadays. The camp was really organized and I really liked that. With over 1,000 students at the camp, they had me with the freshmen [and] sophomores. After breaking a kid's wrist in a one-on-one tackle, Coach Alema Te'o made me go up to the junior and senior level.
"Going up against some of the top prospects at the camp really showed me what my competition really is. Off the field we were good buddies, experiencing college life on the campus. Everything that Coach Mendenhall expressed to us on Junior Day is really how my parents raised all us boys...our faith, academics and football. I know my family is gifted in football, but to hear the other two parts just confirmed what my mom and dad have taught us throughout the years."
V.J.'s father added: "On the last day of the football camp, Coach Mendenhall spoke with us and I got to thank him on behalf of my family for a great Junior Day. BYU recruited my two sons, Whitley and Sam, but don't miss out on V.J., because he is the best of the bunch."
According to V.J.'s side of the story, 10-year-old Breiden is going to be even better. His mother, Linda, concurs.
"Breiden is going to be the best of them all. He actually works out with V.J. at the Farrington varsity practices. He's like V.J. in that he's not afraid of anything. He's going to be the tallest in the family. He's got the aggressiveness of Whitley, the athletic ability of Sam and the strength of V.J. At Max Emfinger's combine, Breiden was in full uniform doing all the drills with the other boys until he got kicked off the field by one of the coaches," his mother said with obvious affection while chuckling.