With the graduation of Paul Williams, Texas Tech had a void to fill at middle linebacker. When defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill moved starting strongside linebacker Brian Duncan to the middle, all observers of Red Raider football felt that the final statement had been made about that position for 2008.
Not so fast, says redshirt freshman Sam Fehoko. The former high school Player of the Year in the state of Hawaii has set his sights, not only on playing in 2008, but starting. And he sounds nothing if not determined and confident.
"First of all, I'm gonna compete for that spot [middle linebacker], and I didn't come here to sit on the bench or nothing like that," Fehoko forcefully states.
"I'm working hard. I worked my butt off since my redshirt year. I've been a hard worker all my life. I'm not trying to sound conceited, but it's just in our blood, our culture."
And speaking of the Hawaiian culture, one might think that Fehoko faced a terrible culture shock upon moving from the land of volcanoes, pipeline waves, and luaus to the land of cotton fields, dust storms and cattleman's balls. According to Fehoko, he certainly had to make an adjustment, but it is one he's made thoroughly.
"Well, there's no mountains, there's no ocean, there's no real bodies of water at all in West Texas. But I put my heart and soul into this place when I signed on the dotted line, and I love it here, the people here. The adjustment was a little bad, the weather and all, but I got used to it and now I'm ready to go."
All indications are that Fehoko is fully ready to go on the football field, and that he could go far. The Tech coaches love his intensity and effort, and so far during spring drills, he has seen a great deal of action. Indeed, he has been every bit as prominent on the field of play as presumptive starter Duncan, and even more so than veteran backup Victor Hunter. But as Fehoko acknowledges, the three are evenly matched at this point.
"It [the competition] is pretty close. I mean, Duncan started last year as a redshirt freshman or whatever, and Vic, he's just a old guy-he knows everything," Fehoko summarizes.
"I'm just a young pup. I'm here to compete and I honestly don't care who's in front of me. I'm not trying to sound conceited or big-headed. That's just my mentality. I don't care who's in front of me. You can put anybody in front of me and I'll go compete for that spot."
Fehoko's goals are considerably more grandiose than just competing, however. He expects to lock up a first-string position and soar onward from there.
"My expectations of what I want to accomplish this year is first just start at middle linebacker. That's what I'm focusing on. Second, just make All Conference, All Big 12 and lead the team in tackles. Fly around the field, that's my goal."
Actually, flying around the field with reckless abandon may be Fehoko's chief problem right now. The inhibitions that come with youth and inexperience sometime prevent him from letting it all hang out.
"Well, you know, I think I'm doing pretty good on pass, just here and there. But Coach Ruff is just wanting me to be more physical, a warrior, just hit 'em. And that's my fault because I'm thinking too much and I just gotta relax and play."
As much as Fehoko is confident in his own abilities, he may be even more excited by the prospects of the 2008 team. Fehoko tries very hard to temper his words, but it is clear that he expect the current Red Raiders to accomplish great things.
"Well, you know, first of all, we're a team. We bond as a team, and it's different from, like, last year. Every team's different, but you know, there's something special about this team."
"And Graham [Harrell], he's now the quarterback, and he's so experienced, and he's so quick with his release," Fehoko testifies.
"You know, I don't want to put anything out there, but we've just got a lot for us and we're gonna take it full on, you know, with whatever we got, and hopefully we'll handle the pressure enough."
If there's one Red Raider who won't be bothered by the pressure it's Fehoko. He's handled a move from Honolulu to the Hub; he's handled the wrath of Ruff, and now he wants the onus of being in the middle of the defense for a possible top ten football team. Fehoko is not your average freshman.
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