The first time Breiden Fehoko stepped on a football field, it wasn’t even to play football.
From 2000 to 2011, Fehoko’s father, Vili, was “Vili the Warrior,” serving as an entertainer during the University of Hawaii football and men’s volleyball games. Fehoko, who was too young to play football at 3 years old, often joined his father on the field for halftime performances.
Dressed as an ancient Polynesian warrior and decked out in traditional attire and war paint, Vili and his son put on many shows for Aloha Stadium.
“Those were some of my best memories as a kid, going out there with my dad and watching the University of Hawaii play football,” Fehoko said. “That’s one thing that I remember that I always looked forward to as a kid. Whenever I got to run out there with Dad and he was getting the crowd going, I really looked forward to it.”
Being the Warrior — the University of Hawaii says he is not a mascot, although he was represented as one — is unique.
The Warrior represents Hawaiian culture and its traditions, from hula girls to the large beating drums. Being the Warrior allowed Vili to shared that culture with fans and his own family.
That warrior culture even impressed LSU coach Ed Orgeron as he recruited Breiden before the 2017 season. At 6-foot-4, 291 pounds, Fehoko is one of the stronger linemen on the team.
Vili is even stronger.
When Orgeron and former defensive line coach Pete Jenkins first saw Vili on Fehoko’s official visit, Vili was curling 120-pound dumbbells in sets of 20.
At that moment, Orgeron said he needed the warrior’s son on his team.
“I said, ‘Well, if I sign his boy, his boy better play; I tell you that,’ ” Orgeron said.
After sitting out last season following his transfer from Texas Tech, Fehoko has made his presence known on the defensive line, totaling 13 tackles and 1½ sacks through six games.
In 2012, Vili decided to retire to dedicate more time to his family, but Fehoko and his family continue to spread Hawaiian culture everywhere they go.
Since Fehoko arrived in Baton Rouge, his family has embraced LSU as if they've been in Louisiana for years. But LSU has seemingly embraced the family back.
Fehoko said his family might even be more comfortable than he is on campus and in the city.
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Fehoko on what he remembers about his first game in Tiger Stadium, last year vs. Auburn.
“It’s really good to see my mom and dad, and even my brothers, enjoy the culture and enjoy everybody and getting to taste the food that I’ve been telling them about,” Fehoko said. “It’s just been awesome to see them adjust to life here in Baton Rouge.”
Fehoko’s mother, Linda, makes Hawaiian leis by hand and gives them to him before games, and he almost always wears them during postgame interviews.
Fehoko described a lei as a symbol of appreciation, love and gratitude. Different flowers in the leis can have various meanings, but they all provide blessings.
“Whenever you go to Hawaii, you get off at the airport, there are people there greeting you with the lei, like: ‘We welcome you with our love, this is our greeting, our gift,’ ” Fehoko said. “Whenever you send off people, it’s the same.”
Other LSU players wear them, too. Fehoko gives one to each defensive lineman after every game, and tight end Foster Moreau was wearing one after LSU’s 45-16 win over Ole Miss.
“Foster is one of my best buddies here,” Fehoko said. “I saw Foster and asked my mom to set aside a lei and I gave it to him. I explained the meaning and he was thankful. He actually still has it.”
The Advocate's LSU beat team predicts the outcome of Saturday's LSU game against Georgia ... the Bulldogs are a 7.5-point favorite to win.
Before LSU games, you can often find Fehoko’s parents and brothers wearing their own leis while they wait for the Tigers to walk down Victory Hill.
Before LSU’s game against Ole Miss on Sept. 29, Fehoko’s parents were at the bottom of Victory Hill like always, but this time was a little different — his father Vili doing the Haka, a traditional war cry, dance or challenge in Maori culture.
“I love their culture. I love everything about it,” Orgeron said. “They bring a lot of energy. They bring a lot of family to our football team. It’s very important to us.”
Fehoko believes he brings more to this team than his efforts and energy on the football field. Hawaiian culture revolves around a sense of respect for everybody, from media to the coaches to peers, he said, and Fehoko shares that culture with his teammates.
“The biggest thing about the Hawaiian culture is family and a sense of family, whether it’s respect, love, courage, strength,” Fehoko said. “That’s just the biggest thing that I feel like I can bring to the table amongst my teammates. Being loving, being respectful and knowing that they have somebody to depend on.”