PROVO — Hebron Fangupo is at BYU because his wife made him. The mammoth 331-pound defensive end he couldn’t be happier that she did.
“I love BYU,” he said. “I love my Book of Mormon classes, I love my coaches, I loved coach (Steve) Kaufusi, I’m really beginning to love the 3-4 defense. Things couldn’t have worked out better for me.”
Fangupo signed on with USC following a successful stint at Mt. San Antonio Community College, which earned him a five-star designation by scout.com. Prior to playing for Mt. San Antonio he served a two-year mission to Manila, Philippines.
Injuries hampered his ability to contribute while at USC, although he was set to start this year had he remained a Trojan. He was happy enough there, but someone else was not.
Fangupo’s wife Rebekah had an experience while living in their apartment in South Central Los Angeles that prompted the couple’s sudden move to Provo.
“She was just sitting in our apartment one night by herself when someone broke in,” he said. “So then she was like, ‘That’s it —we’re moving to Provo.' It was seriously just like that. I agreed with her, and off we went to a much safer place — a better place for my wife, which is my first priority.”
Since arriving at BYU, Fangupo (nicknamed "Loni") has provided a very fierce and competitive yet fun personality that his teammates have immediately taken a liking to.
“Loni is the best,” said fellow defensive lineman Eathyn Manumleuna. “He has a lot of energy and is always talking and joking. He fits in great here.”
His current fit within the BYU 3-4 defensive alignment is ironically at defensive end. Given his 6-foot-1, 331-pound frame, nose tackle would seem to be the position he’s best suited for.
“Yeah, that was a big adjustment,” he said about fitting in at nose tackle. “I had to learn how to play a little bit different and become convinced that it was the best spot for me. After going through practices, though, I love it.”
Fangupo earned himself a spot in Kaufusi’s regular defensive rotation. In his BYU debut against Ole Miss, Fangupo he was seen in the backfield on more than one occasion helping to wreak havoc on the Rebel offensive attack.
His primary role, however, was taking up blockers, which is the main priority of any defensive lineman in a 3-4 alignment.
“I really don’t like taking on just one blocker,” Fangupo said. “I like a challenge. I like an offense to come at me with two or three blockers, because I can handle them. It’s what I do. In taking up those blockers I allow other guys to make plays, which it is all about. I don’t care if I make the play. I even like it better of Brandon Ogletree, Uona (Kaveinga) or anyone else is making the play. That’s my job.”
It’s a job that he’s performing at very well using his fall practice sessions and first game against Ole Miss as reference points. He’s not only performing well on the field, but off of it as well.
BYU has provided both Fangupo and Rebekah a pretty significant change in what they had become accustomed to while at USC.
“When I got married everything changed for me,” he said. “Before I got married it was all about football. Football is still important, but my wife is my life now. I know that she knows what is best for me. She was the one that had the idea to come to BYU, and it was absolutely the best decision for me.”
The stark environment change that Fangupo is enjoying isn’t just outside of the football facilities, either. Through his time at BYU, he’s found a unique environment provided by his coaches and teammates that has been beneficial.
“This team is a lot more close than we were at USC,” he explained. “It was amazing after the Ole Miss game and at halftime how no one was complaining about their playing time or anything like that. It’s all about the team, and that is what helps us be successful. There is a great attitude here that’s an unselfish attitude.”
Fangupo will finish up this season and then move on to other things. Given how well he’s taken to BYU, one would think that he regrets not having arrived earlier — but he doesn’t see it that way.
“All I can do is rely on the Lord,” he said. “I prayed about where I should go after junior college, and even though BYU was sort of my dream school, the Lord told me that I needed to go to USC. I met my wife there at USC, the love of my life, so how could I regret that? It was meeting my wife at USC that got me to come here to BYU, along with prayer, and I couldn’t be happier with how things have worked out.”
Other players seeing their first action against Ole Miss:
- Houston Reynolds, 6-foot-2, 296-pound sophomore OL. Reynolds saw almost every rep at left guard after having won the spot during fall practices. It was assumed that there would be a lot of rotation at the OG positions, but the youngest Reynolds brother saw almost every rep at his position during the game.
- Preston Hadley, 6-foot-0, 200-pound junior CB. Hadley accomplished what any incoming JC player aims to do, which is to earn a starting spot. He won the starting boundary corner position during fall and provided very good coverage and run support against Ole Miss.
- Joe Sampson, 5-foot-10, 213-pound junior CB. Sampson rotated with Hadley at the BCB position and, like Hadley, he proved to be very effective throughout the course of the game.
- Ross Apo, 6-foot-3, 206-pound freshman WR. Although Apo saw limited time on special teams against Washington last year, Ole Miss was his first game playing reps at wide receiver. He responded well in catching the first touchdown and accounting for four receptions for 46 yards on the day.
- Uona Kaveinga, 5-foot-11, 236-pound junior LB. Kaveinga started at middle linebacker and recorded five total tackles against the Rebels.
- Austin Heder, 6-foot-1, 241-pound freshman FB/LB. Heder saw limited reps playing fullback during short-yardage situations.
- Jordan Johnson, 5-foot-10, 175-pound freshman CB/KR. Johnson returned one kickoff for 28 yards.