In Vaeao, Big Joe got his man ...Saban didn't

PULLMAN – Nick Saban, the most famous college football coach in the world, wanted Destiny Vaeao to play tight end at Alabama. Joe Salave’a, who’s not even the most famous college football coach at Washington State, wanted Destiny Vaeao to play defensive end for the Cougars. Final score: Salave’a 1, Saban 0.

Vaeao, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound junior who seems to line up anywhere and everywhere on defense for the Cougars, explains why he chose WSU over Alabama in the latest edition of 11-on-1. The weekly exclusive poses 11 questions to one individual involved with WSU football.

1. Obviously, Alabama is a perennial national powerhouse. Your older sister recently graduated from Washington State, but why did you pick the Cougars over Alabama?

Vaeao: People back home wanted me to go to Alabama. I just wanted to come here, build a legacy, change this thing around.

2. Like you, Salave’a hails from American Samoa, a small U.S. territory in the South Pacific. What’s it like having Salave’a, Washington State’s defensive line coach, coaching you 5,500 miles from home?

Vaeao: It means a lot. People back home, they trust him. He’s like part of a family kind of. Basically, we look at him like a big brother.

3. Unlike Alabama’s coaches, Salave’a made the long trip to American Samoa to recruit you. Were you aware of Joe when he was playing in the NFL?

Vaeao: When we were little kids, we’d watch him in the NFL (on television). He’s been there, he’s done that.

4. You seem to have enjoyed the most success as a defensive end, but you’ve played all over the line and at BUCK linebacker at various times. You’ve practiced at nose tackle lately due to the unexplained absence of regular starter Toni Pole. Do you prefer defensive end?

Vaeao: Yeah, but I can play any position … whatever helps us win the game.

5. Many fans expected WSU’s record to be much better than 2-5 at this point in the season. Do you have an explanation for the poor record?

Vaeao: I don’t know how to explain that. We’ve just got to keep going. Don’t look at what we’ve done. All we’re focusing on right now is just Arizona (Saturday’s opponent at 3 p.m. at Martin Stadium). That’s basically it. Just one game at a time. We can’t look back. All we can do is do corrections from that. The Pac-12 is a tough conference.

6. If you don’t fulfill your dream of following Salave’a into the NFL, what do you want to do after you earn your criminal justice degree?

Vaeao: Back home, there’s a lot of kids that struggle. I want to help them. They’re more talented than me, then they try to choose a different path and get in trouble. I just want to work with the kids (as a counselor and/or coach).

7. All told, American Samoa – which consists of five islands and two coral atolls – has barely 50,000 citizens living in about as much space as the city of Washington, D.C. What else can you tell us about your homeland?

Vaeao: It’s a tropical island. The humidity, same as Hawaii. It’s hot down there.

8. What were the biggest adjustments for you after moving to Pullman?

Vaeao: Probably just the weather. The academic part, too. It’s hard.

9. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Vaeao: Play the uke (ukulele). I’m good at it. We usually do it Saturday nights. We do it with Toni, sit around a bonfire (a fire pit at the apartment Pole shares with linebacker Cyrus Coen).

10. You dyed your hair reddish-brown last year, and now the reddish-brown stands out on top of your Mohawk hairdo. What’s with the new ‘do?

Vaeao: You gotta have a swag going during the season (smiles).

11. Are you guys still aiming for a bowl game?

Vaeao: That’s our goal, but basically, we’ve just got to win one game at a time to get to that goal.

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