Updated: Mar 5, 2021
THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCLUSIVE POST WE MAKE AVAILABLE FOR BREIDEN'S BIRTHDAY, PLEASE SUBSCRIBE & SUPPORT LSU ODYSSEY.
by LONN PHILLIPS
Sometimes, despite our best efforts and intentions, the best among us still remain forgotten... even on the greatest college football team of all time...case in point: LA Chargers' defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko....but we can always rectify our mistakes and we'll follow suit with the Chargers in saluting one of 2019 LSU's true leaders.
While most know #91 from his vibrant crescent moon smile, devastating hits in the backfield and his family's proud pre-game performances of The Haka, many more have become acquainted with the Hawaiian through his pure humanity.
Many can talk about the defensive lineman's prowess at Farrington High gaining him offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Auburn, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Utah, and 20 other Power 5 schools...however, it's been the four years he spent in high school volunteering for special needs children, the undying belief he had in his family, friends and teammates, or the brotherhood he instilled upon the 2019 Tigers which really defines him.
Spending every year in high school spreading the love and helping those challenged most in the Kalihi region on the island of O'ahu, Hawai'i , hanging out with Junior Seau and his family (picking the brain of the 12x Pro Bowler who they called "Uncle Junior"), Breiden also graduated on the honor roll as he became one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play in Hawai'i. And with his outrageous measure-ables, definitive lineman's technique coupled with his assured confidence and intelligence, he could pick any school he wanted.
Though most Polynesian kids found themselves staying on the West Coast, Breiden always wanted to be a trailblazer. He initially chose Texas Tech, joining a team coached by current Arizona Cardinals gaffer Cliff Kingsbury and led by world's greatest quarterback and Super Bowl Champion Mr. Patrick Mahomes.
As happy as he and his family were in Lubbock, Breiden knew he could play in the NFL. Due to Texas Tech going through three different defensive coordinators and a trio of defensive line coaches in two seasons, and the Big 12 competition proving to be too soft for this beast of every opponent's burden, he took his talents elsewhere in order to make it at the highest level:
In only two seasons at Texas Tech from the nose tackle position, Breiden dished out a ridiculous 38 tackles, 21 solo, 9.5 TFL (instead of the 7.5 he's officially credited for), an interception (how many NT's have interceptions on their CVs?) as well as punishing QBs for 2 sacks...for a nose tackle, this production was incredible.
His family leaned on their LDS faith, praying continuously and looking for any answer...finally, Breiden watched the SEC on CBS, like he had all his young life, realizing he needed to go play against the SEC's top competition week in / week out, simultaneously pushing himself within a squad full of 5 stars and NFL-ready specimen....he'd not only grow as a person, Breiden would be maximizing his talents at the highest level.
His father Vili "The Warrior" Fehoko described to us the struggle Breiden had in this decision, his eventual choice and the Fehoko family's move from Hawai'i to the mainland for the first time ever:
"I've always felt that without Texas Tech Breiden wouldn't be at LSU. Our son was at Texas Tech to fulfill his mission on and off the field for two years. Breiden needed to be where he was at that time of his life... not only did he give his all on the field, he was actively involved in the community of Lubbock. Both universities made a big impact on our son. That is why Breiden adorned the Texas Tech and LSU stickers on his helmet for the Hula Bowl. We are grateful these two universities came together to give our son opportunities. As a father and for our family, we have to thank Texas Tech...there's a reason we still live in Lubbock. When we left everything in Hawaii five years ago to be with our son on the mainland, it was to make sure we would continue our support as parents. We missed out a lot with Breiden's three older brothers because plane tickets were out of our budget, so the best thing to do was to move. So....we brought Hawaii with us.”
As a true student of the game, Breiden carried the knowledge, experiences and friendships he'd gained at Texas Tech, and in the spirit of his parents' wisdom, Breiden transferred and began scouting for his next & final collegiate home.
It wasn't long before every top school in the SEC and most Power 5 authorities came running for Breiden's signature, everyone from Brent Venables and Clemson, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama & Saban himself demanding the steely Farrington High nose tackle....but one school stood out above the rest.
Thanks to former Defensive line Coach Pete Jenkins, Head Coach (and D-line guru) Ed Orgeron and Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda's recruiting and intimate expertise of the trenches, he went to LSU to jumpstart his college career, bolster his already vast football IQ and ensure his NFL success.
After only a single visit to the campus in Baton Rouge, Fehoko felt he'd found his new home, although it would take a full year sitting out (per transfer rules) for us to finally see #91 on the field for the Tigers.
Much like Joe Burrow, Fehoko was another huge transfer catch for the Tigers; additionally the experience of transferring from two different colleges, both thousands of miles away from home, uniquely qualifies and prepares Breiden perfectly for the uncertainty and unfamiliarity of the NFL.
When he arrived at LSU, he became the most high profile Polynesian player in LSU history, as well as a valuable piece along the interior defensive line, destroying SEC offenses in his debut season in the conference: 16 tackles, 8 TFL (official 4.5 isn't correct), 1.5 sacks, 1 deflection (all while battling a biceps injury) from the nose tackle position, these high octane numbers displaying that he truly belonged, but only scratching the surface of his value..
Highlighting his importance during the 2018 season, Breiden encouraged his teammates to find their inner greatness, convincing his guys they had the ability to go above and beyond, learning everything he could with his brothers in the defensive line meeting room, and listening to mentors such as linebacker Devin White and #18 D-lineman Christian LaCoutoure, Fehoko simultaneously helped establish the glue which bound each member of the eternal 2019 Tigers together...establishing unbreakable bonds a year prior to a national title.
Just as much as he smiled while robbing quarterbacks of their soul, Breiden also kept his Ohana sunset grin shining on when he met these frazzled, disturbed quarterbacks on the other side with a helping hand up...
Even as he later battled against forces beyond his control which kept him from starting for LSU's title-winning squad, he never gave in to negativity, gossip or challenging the harmony of the team...in fact, Fehoko stood as the center of the good vibes surrounding this historic group.
Despite featuring in a mere 17 snaps vs Alabama, a game in which he wreaked havoc on childhood friend Tua with 2 brutal hits (one hobbling Tagovaiola for the rest of the game and severely limiting his accuracy), 3 pressures as he breached the backfield 9 times and conquered 10 one on one battles, Breiden never dampened his boyish grin, he never tossed out his witty charm or islander grace...even as he stood on the sidelines out of a game he was surely impacting... regardless, he gave everything, whether on the field or not.
Undeterred by his drop in snaps, Fehoko still became an unsung leader on the 2019 unit, guiding his teammates towards a higher purpose, making big time plays throughout the season (usually via subtle defensive line dirty work which opened lanes for Patrick Queen, Jacob Phillips, Grant Delpit and others to make big plays) Coach Orgeron even counted on Breiden as one of the members of the Players' Council.
And while his frustration to play reached a fever pitch during the national title run, Fehoko didn't break....he solidified his resolve. B-Man's selflessness bolstered Orgeron's Tigers far further than they would've gone without him...after all, this happened to be the greatest collegiate squad of all time and Breiden was a key cog and every offensive lineman's nightmare matchup from hell, often drawing countless double teams which allowed his brothers on the outside to make the plays which defined our season.....truly, whether he was on the field or not: we all knew how key his role became to this championship.
This swaggering brotherhood became ingrained within the LSU team; this "ride or die" / "fight for your life and the brother next to you" mentality served the Tigers' defense well later in the campaign:
After finding themselves racked up against the burning coals of inconsistency and fan/media scrutiny following the Alabama & Ole Miss contests (allowing 35+ points in back-to-back games for the first time in the Coach Orgeron era) as well as suffering a vast array of injuries along the defensive front and secondary (Rashard Lawrence and Grant Delpit among others), Breiden Fehoko's gap-clogging and pass-rushing duties became a destiny of disruption in the trenches, helping the shaky, exhausted and battered Tigers defense rebound into a true bona fide powerhouse by the final four games of the season.....Much of the credit lying squarely at the feet of B-Man's calm intensity and "Bring it on" demeanor.
While we can talk all we want about what Breiden accomplished on the field, his most lasting impact may be the cultural impression his entire family stamped upon Baton Rouge:
The Fehoko Family's impression upon the diverse melting pot of cultures at LSU transcends football, race, religion or any of the other measuring sticks we foolishly use to separate us all. Breiden's influence went beyond the traditional parameters, all while acknowledging and celebrating the past, whether through Breiden's father Vili performing The Haka prior to Tigers games or Fehoko's obsessive study of LSU Tigers history.
The Haka will always be something which sets Breiden apart from others: the traditional war dance will always be a magnetic subject of curiosity...and the youthful wonder we show as we ask any member of the Fehoko family about The Haka provides a perfect opportunity for Breiden's family to share the power of his ancestry, the plight of Polynesians everywhere and the boundless love and positive, healing energy emanating from their traditions.
"The Haka is something our family always had....Haka was always a part of our lives. It's a traditional war-dance to call upon the spirits of our ancestors. They set the path for us and now we pay homage to them," Linda Fehoko, Breiden's mother explained to me via Zoom. "The kids were raised with their father showing them how it's done, the importance of the Haka. LSU is sacred ground, and it's just like preparing you for battle."
Which is why The Haka, football, LSU fans, and the Fehoko family were a match made in heaven.
The Haka wasn't merely a celebration or a purging of one's energy...it became telepathic between the family members, as can be seen before the Alabama game:
Breiden's father Vili and his brother Sam spotted #91 as he arrived for the game and a special moment ensued: without words, without expressions...just pure raw energy.
Vili began the Haka, speaking to Breiden loudly, raising his arms and hands high before slapping his palms to each knee, voices growing louder and more intense, hands extending with intermittent thrusts...this was pure, primal emotion...and whether we could or couldn't understand what they were saying or doing, we loved it.
Then, something spiritual happened: Breiden began responding in kind just as his brother Sam joined in, the family performing the Haka together amongst a crowd of LSU fans (we see you Peggy!) joyously impacting everyone in their vicinity by the traditional war dance....all of this before the biggest game in their son and brother's life.
"Just the other day, I can't remember which player it was (from the 2019 team), but they were all talking and texting during the Draft, and one of them said 'Breiden you still owe me the Haka'," Linda laughs. "There's such a diverse group at LSU who can make the same connection (to the Haka) as we did, so why not (keep it around as an LSU tradition)?"
Just as the Haka became engrained within the Fehoko sons from a young age, so did football:
Not only did Breiden climb to the top of the mountain, starting at LSU for a season (2018), smashing nearly every Top 10 quarterback they faced, graduating with a degree and winning a national championship, his brothers all played for Division I schools and graduated with degrees, too...
But after April 2020, Breiden becomes the first to represent their immediate family in the NFL, though his ties to the professional league aren't far away.
With close family ties to Ravens' Super Bowl champion and perennial Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata, as well as the aforementioned "Uncle" Junior Seau, football was a given for B-Man from birth:
"This was a kid that didn't like toys and he didn't....he just liked football...he would walk around everywhere with this football. When his brothers started playing, he asked me 'Hey Mom can you talk to the coaches so I can be the water or ball boy?' and we all knew what he wanted, he just wanted to get on the field, hang around and be close to the action," Linda laughs. "Football was so innate...it was so a part of him. We couldn't give him anything else for Christmas or a birthday or he would cry. He carried that first football we got him around 'til he was in junior high...and we still have it in storage. It was just something he craved all the time...he just craved the game. Coaches would talk to him during games as if he were a part of the team, just chatting it up with Breiden."
His love for football took him to places he could only dream of: from the first moment he walked on to a football field while his father performed The Haka...until he took his place on the greatest college football team of all time.
But it all culminated during the final game of the 2019/2020 season, the National Championship Game vs Clemson.
Breiden registered a jaw-rattling hit on Trevor Lawrence, 3 pressures (one of which forced Lawrence out of the pocket and into Grant Delpit, the safety then forcing the game-sealing fumble), 2 one on one duels won at the line of scrimmage vs O-linemen, and 2 forced incompletions from only 9 effectively efficient snaps.
Despite the lack of snaps, playing time didn't concern the star interior DL, this is a "team first" cat who wanted a national championship on his finger more than any stat you could quantify.
Although his family would've loved to see him play more, there was a higher purpose to Breiden Fehoko's arrival on the New Orleans Superdome field that night in January:
LONN: What was it like watching your son Breiden play in the national title game?
LINDA FEHOKO: It was the "fulfillment of the American Dream....you never really know what the American Dream really means until you live it...until you feel it in your heart, in your veins, you look around and just say 'pinch me'....seeing Breiden play on that field...I looked at his brothers and they were all emotional. You can see his name on the back of that jersey...he's carrying on the name of our ancestors...this is what it's all about. We were so humbled...but we were all so proud..."
Instead of heading for the victory trip to the White House, Breiden headed straight back for training, working as hard as he could to make sure he'd find a home in the NFL...and now, with Anthony Lynn's Chargers signing him as a free agent, the hard work may not be over...but it's definitely starting to pay off.
His free agency signing with the LA Chargers was emotional for the Fehoko family, especially considering Junior Seau's longtime career in those classic powder blue jerseys throughout Breiden's youth...
...There's a sense of stars aligning.... all in the face of such world-wide uncertainty, here was something positive brewing: on Draft night, you wanted to root for the Fehoko family with all of your being.
Regardless of his NFL arrival, the young man doesn't feel he's earned anything yet...in fact, he won't even wear his own Chargers uniform, a tradition he started with his first college visits. There's a reason you never saw a hyped up Breiden Fehoko #91 purple & gold signing day photo flying all over Twitter in 2017:
Linda told us, "He told those coaches 'I cannot wear the uniform yet...I haven't earned it...Let me earn it, the other 52 men on the roster have, let me earn it the right way'. He's always wanted to earn things the right way, that's how he's always been."
Fehoko is a player who, much like many defensive linemen, perform the dirty work basic stats will never tally or could ever really quantify.
But this dirty work matters...it wins championships: the trenches are where Super Bowls and National Championships are won or lost...this is where the boys are separated from the men, and Breiden....he's a biiiiiig hungry man.
Even on the official statistics, players like Breiden Fehoko, K'Lavon Chaisson, Tyler Shelvin all pulled off expert plays which were never taken down statistically, most likely due to Joe Burrow and co retiring the statistical analysts, their computers becoming overrun from the offensive cannibalism LSU performed upon the known college football world.
Below are his actual, verifiable statistics, including 10 games in which official statistics were either missing completely or woefully inaccurate:
BATTLES WON: 9
BATTLES LOST: 3
ENTERED THE BACKFIELD: 8x
QB HITS: 2 (Injured Tua for the rest of the game)
QB PRESSURES: 2
FORCED INCOMPLETIONS: 1
MISSED TACKLES: 2
BATTLES WON: 6
BATTLES LOST: 7
FORCED INCOMPLETIONS: 3
QB PRESSURES: 2
ENTERED THE BACKFIELD: 8x
SACKS: 0.5 (shared with Logan)
FORCED HOLDING PENALTY: 1 (also held 2x clearly, though not called)
DOUBLE TEAMS DRAWN: 3
MISSED TACKLES: 2
(3x pressure grabbed a double team which allowed #90 to swat the ball or force 2x sacks)