St. Francis High graduate Junior Fehoko said he likes taking his college courses over Zoom “because (during) in-person classes, I was kind of a nervous dude, a shy dude.”
That’s certainly not the case on the football field, where the energetic Fehoko makes opposing quarterbacks nervous as a standout defensive end for San Jose State University.
“The field is what I would say is my comfortable space,” the communication studies major said. “From snap to whistle, I just play football.”
The 6-foot-4, 233-pound junior is coming off a breakout season, earning a spot on the All-Mountain West Conference First Team Defense. Over eight games, Fehoko registered six sacks – second only to teammate Cade Hall, the MWC Defensive Player of the Year – and led the Spartans in tackles for loss with 12 1/2.
“I think our D-line coach, Coach Joe Seumalo, has done a great job helping Junior develop technique,” San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan said. “Combining that technique with his athletic ability and talent is turning him into a great, great player.”
Brennan is also a St. Francis High grad, something the two men have bonded over.
“We talk about that every day,” Fehoko said. “St. Francis High School (and) the Lancer way: ‘Pride and poise.’”
Brennan was among the first college coaches to offer Fehoko a scholarship. Already helped by an endorsement from St. Francis head coach Greg Calcagno, Fehoko’s performance at a three-day contact football camp – “I didn’t do too bad,” he said modestly – sealed the deal the summer before his senior year. About a week later, Brennan came calling with a scholarship in hand.
“The recruiting process was kind of slow for me,” the East Palo Alto native said. “But I also had a hard time (balancing) academics and football and stuff, so I had to focus on that. So I did not end up signing on the first signing day.”
When he put pen to paper, Fehoko said he felt “more than blessed and excited.”
That seems to sum up how Brennan feels about having Fehoko on his team.
“Junior is a really, really likeable young man,” he said. “He’s got great energy and a big smile. He lives with his heart on his sleeve and he’s grown into a great player. It’s been fun to watch him develop. There’s been a lot of work that’s gone into that for him.”
An eye on the prize
That work hasn’t stopped just because the season is over. Fehoko and his teammates began offseason conditioning last month, setting their sights on at least equaling last year’s success. The Spartans went undefeated in the conference and their only loss was to Ball State in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
“Everyone’s going to come for us, since we’re at the top now,” said Fehoko, whose given name is Viliami. “But that’s exactly why everyone’s been hitting the weight room way harder than we have before. … We’ve been showing nothing but great progress, so I’m excited to see what this team does.”
What San Jose State did in 2020 came as a surprise to many, but not Fehoko. He was convinced the Spartans were destined for greatness well before their first game. It was during quarantine, when he said players shared their daily workouts with each other, which encouraged them to kick their training up a notch.
“Seeing other guys on your team work a little harder during the hard times makes you question, ‘Am I working hard enough?” he said. “So when we got back from quarantine, I felt like we were a step ahead of other teams.”
The pandemic not only delayed and shortened the Spartans’ season – it also forced them to hold their fall camp 325 miles from campus due to Santa Clara County’s stringent restrictions. The team practiced for nearly two weeks at Humboldt State University last October.
Instead of allowing this to be a distraction, Fehoko said the experience made San Jose State better. The players left Humboldt even more united than when they arrived.
“I would say being away from home at Humboldt, just being away from everyone we knew or just all our friends, all we had was each other,” Fehoko said. “So I would say our bond was just too, too strong last year.”
That bond, which he called a “brotherhood,” reminded him of his days at St. Francis. Especially his senior year, when the Lancers won a state title.
“I would say that the year we went to state, that was probably one of the closest teams I’ve ever been a part of,” Fehoko said.
The roster included childhood friends Joshua Pakola and Tyler Manoa – now on football scholarships at Stanford University and UCLA, respectively – whom Fehoko remains tight with.
“We talk, like, maybe two or three times a week,” he said. “We have group chats on social media. We’re pretty updated with each other.”
They first played the game together at age 8, Fehoko recalled, on a Pop Warner team coached by Pakola’s dad. Fehoko also played rugby as a youth, “but football was always my first love,” he said.
He’s not the only member of his family to succeed in the sport. Fehoko’s relatives include nose tackle Vita Vea, who just won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and “a lot of family members in the (NCAA) DI level right now trying to make it to the next level,” he said.
Fehoko might join them there one day. Brennan considers him a pro prospect – “I really believe he can be an NFL player somewhere down the road,” he said – and Fehoko would love to prove his coach correct. Playing in the NFL has been a goal since those Pop Warner days.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” he said.