Destiny Vaeao: teacher, leader, lineman

PULLMAN — Teddy Roosevelt would have loved Destiny Vaeao. The Washington State senior from Pago Pago is the personification of the age-old bromide “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Softly actually may be too delicate a word, but you get the point.

The punch the defensive tackle packs stems beyond his 6-foot-4, 298-pound frame to the low-key, yet powerful, way he motivates and mentors teammates.

Hollering and hand waving isn’t the Vaeao way, but he isn’t bashful about sharing his thoughts.

“He really helps teach me my plays, and my steps,” second-year freshman defensive end Hercules Mata’afa told CF.C in August camp. “He also helped out with my execution.”

With three starts this season, Vaeao now has 25 for his career, making him something of the wise old man of a Cougar defense that features considerable youth.

“He’s a veteran, and he brings the juice,” junior nose tackle Robert Barber told CF.C. “He gets us pumped up, so it’s good to have him back.”

Says fellow senior lineman Darryl Paulo, “Destiny is a big key for our defensive line. He’s a great run stopper, and he can get to the quarterback too.”

So far this season, Vaeao has piled up impressive numbers. He’s fourth on the team in total tackles, with 12, including a sack. He also has recovered a fumble and blocked a kick — both coming in the dramatic win at Rutgers.

In the run up to the season, Vaeao praised the mentoring he has received from defensive line coach Joe Salave'a.

“He’s been there and done that, played the game,” Vaeao said of the former long-time NFL players. “He taught us how to do things the right way.”

The admiration is mutual.

“It’s a pleasure to have him,” Salave’a told CF.C in Lewiston last month. “He’s ready for the season, and I’m looking forward to seeing him do work.”

Senior rush linebacker Ivan McLennan cuts straight to the chase when asked to describe Vaeao.

“He’s the leader of the defensive line, he’s very vocal,” McLennan said. “He’s very passionate about the game, he’s a big key for the defense this year.”

TRANSITIONING TO A NEW defensive coordinator this season in Alex Grinch has been smooth, Vaeao said.

“He’s a great coach, he knows how to deal with us as young adults,” he said. “The way he runs the defense is more understandable too.”

That ease of understanding, Vaeao says, allows defenders “to hunt” rather than process what to do.

Vaeao said he spent the off season focused on improving his footwork and hand placement, and shedding blocks.

As for his leadership style, he is matter of fact: “I just lead by what I do, not what I say,” he said. “We all hold each other accountable, so that’s what I do too.”

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