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Prospect interview: Viliami Fehoko Jr. is fueled by an unmatched hunger for the game of football

Fehoko Jr. grew up a 49ers fan and admired Aldon and Justin Smith, along with Ahmad Brooks.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Colorado State at San Jose State Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

My next edition in our prospect interview series focuses on Viliami Fehoko Jr., a standout defensive lineman for the San Jose State Spartans who has spent the last four years terrorizing opposing offenses in the Mountain West Conference.

Fehoko Jr. is a Bay Area native who grew up in East Palo Alto before starring at Saint Francis High School. He was recruited as a tight end before making the full-time switch to defensive line upon his arrival at San Jose State.

He is coming off an extremely impressive senior season that saw him record 66 pressures to go along with nine sacks. Furthermore, he had three or more pressures in 11 of the 12 games he played in, and finished the season with an eye-popping 19.8 percent pressure rate on 332 pass rushing snaps.

The 19.5 tackles for loss that he registered in 2022 were the fifth highest in the nation, yet another impressive milestone that helped him earn the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award.

Fehoko has met privately with the 49ers in recent weeks, and was in attendance but did not work out at the 49ers local pro day on April 12th. He had an opportunity to meet with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and assistant defensive line coach Darryl Tapp, a meeting Fehoko Jr. said thoroughly enjoyed while mentioning the conversations they had gone really well.

We started our discussion by talking a bit about his background in football, and he mentioned he was recruited as a tight end coming out of high school before making the switch to the defensive side of the ball:

“I always had more of a defensive mindset, even when I was playing as a blocking tight end I had that green light in my head and you know get off the ball, fire off and move him out of the gap. So that kind of just transfers into defense in terms of getting off the ball and going straight through the guy in front of you.”

He also has a background in the sport of rugby, playing as a member of the East Palo Alto Razorbacks Rugby Club. Fehoko Jr. went in depth to explain how his experience playing rugby set him up for success on the football field:

“Rugby and football are kind of mirrored in their playing styles, it’s kind of like football with no pads almost. It takes a lot to play rugby, to be able to throw your shoulder and tackle guys without pads and stuff. It takes a little while to get used to, but after playing football for so long it was already ingrained in me to go make those plays. Rugby helped me with, I wouldn’t say that fear factor, but kind of just throwing myself into situations where most people wouldn’t, I feel like that transitioned onto the football field for me in terms of just throwing my body around and making plays.”

One thing that stood out about Fehoko Jr. in the game film I have watched is his ability to consistently counter with a secondary pass rushing moves. He utilizes a spin that has been extremely effective as a counter move, and I was eager to learn how he developed the deep arsenal of moves he has shown on tape:

“Something that’s built over time, just consistency with reps and just getting better at things I’m kind of flawed at. My counters, it all took time, especially that spin. A couple guys will tell you I used to beg them to come out and do drill work with me, and the spin was always one of the ones we would go over a whole bunch, and to see it almost a year and a half later starting to work a little bit, that’s what its all for. All those reps, it takes time.”

As we continued our conversation, I asked Fehoko Jr. about the area of his game that he feels most confident in heading into the NFL:

“I’d say my physicality and my aggressiveness. Personally I feel like my hunger is unmatched when it comes to the game of football.”

I followed that up by asking him what area of his game he is spending the most time working on as he prepares to enter the next level:

“Number one, getting in football shape so I can run around as much as they need me to as soon as we report for rookie minicamp. Number two is flexibility and finishing. I feel like I left a lot of money on the field these past three years in terms of just missing sacks, TFL’s, and I feel like flexibility had a lot do with it in terms of bending those tight edges and finishing in certain situations. So I feel like flexibility will help me a whole lot with finishing which will be the number one priority for me heading into this transition.”

He also has a long-standing family connection to the San Francisco 49ers, dating back to his father's time working as a chef at a Bay Area restaurant that was owned by franchise icon Dwight Clark.

“I just remember growing up and seeing pictures of him with all the five Super Bowl trophies they would bring into the restaurant, so it was pretty cool having that experience growing up” said Fehoko Jr., “I guess it was in our genes at that point.”

While we were discussing the 49ers being his favorite team when he was younger, Fehoko Jr. mentioned Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, and Ahmad Brooks were a few of the players who he admired while growing up.

Given his ties to the area and his family connection to the franchise, I was curious to know how much more special it would be if he were selected by the 49ers and got to continue playing football in the Bay Area, close to his family:

“Yeah no doubt. I think it would be a dream for anybody in the world to play in their hometown or as close as they can be. So it would definitely be a special place, but whatever team takes me they are getting a fierce competitor.”

While on the topic of the 49ers, I asked Fehoko Jr. if he has had a chance to connect with any of the guys on the team during his time at San Jose State:

“After my freshman year I ran into Arik Armstead over there working out, my head coach kind of sat me down with him and we had a good talk about being a young player and young person adjusting to the college life, and he had a few pointers for me back then that definitely helped. He’s a superstar in the league and meeting has stuck with me ever since.”

Continuing our conversation about learning from guys at the NFL level, I asked if there was anyone in particular who he watches closely to refine his own game:

“I’d say the number one guy that I love watching right now is Rashan Gary on the Green Bay Packers. The type of motor he plays with every snap he gets, theres not a lot of guys who have that motor skill, Rashan Gary is definitely one of those players that I love watching and learning a lot from.”

Fehoko Jr. is a relative of standout Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea, who is also a Bay Area native. While we discussed this, it became evident how much pride Fehoko Jr. has in seeing the success of Polynesian football players like Vea, while also giving a shoutout to an All-Pro member of the 49ers defense as well.

“Every single Polynesian looks up to him, him and Talanoa [Hufanga] and all of the guys that are doing it for the culture.”

With Fehoko Jr. ready to take that next step into the NFL, I asked him to share a bit about what it would mean to him to be the next player in line to represent the Polynesian culture in the NFL:

It means the world, just knowing that I would be a role model to the next generation of Polynesian kids who are pushing for the D1 level, and even taking it to the next step and trying to get to the NFL. Anytime that you can motivate the younger generations, especially the Polynesian generations, it means the world to the culture, to me, to our family.”

He also touched on what it would mean to play on the same defense as Hufanga if he were to be selected by the 49ers:

“It would mean a lot not only to me, but the culture. It’s not often where you see two Tongans or two Polynesians at that playing on the same side of the ball on the same team making their mark.”

To conclude, I asked him to describe what the fans of whatever organization that drafts him will be getting in him as a player, and as a person:

“First and foremost a consistent leader. A leader that will show up every day and put in the work day in and day out. The competitor that I am, you’re going to get a fierce competitor who’s hungry and physical in every aspect, and will continue to show that every chance that I get.”