There are few places as placid as a fishing boat on the Pacific Ocean. There are few places as violent and hectic as the trenches of an NFL football game. One man equally at home in both is Eagles defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao.
Vaeao's stunning performance in training camp in 2016 as an undrafted free agent out of Washington State helped convince the Eagles to not pursue defensive tackle Bennie Logan after the 2016 season. Now, he's part of a defensive-line rotation that is No. 1 in the NFL against the run.
He comes from a family of fishermen based in Pago Pago, the capital city of American Samoa, which has become a pipeline to college and professional football — 34 players born in American Samoa have played in the NFL. Vaeao is one of three currently playing, along with the Broncos' Domata Peko and the Cardinals' Mike Iupati.
Dozens more not born in Samoa but of Somoan descent have played in the league, and hundreds have played in college. Most are large men, many soft-spoken. None of the others has a name that might suit a Disney princess.
Why were you named "Destiny?"
My mom named me Destiny because I'm the youngest of five — three brothers, one sister — and I guess she knew I was destined for greatness. I'm the only one to leave Samoa. I did it with aggression. It's a blessing.
You were a tight end in high school and projected to be one in college, but you switched to defense at Washington State. Why?
I always just wanted to play defense growing up. To have that little swag, a little juice, being on defense. On offense, you can have that mentality, but you have to remember all those plays. On defense, you can be a dog. Just do whatever you want to do. And have fun.
You play with the second unit of a defensive line that has made the Eagles' defense one of the best in the league and the backbone of the 10-1 start this season. You sacked Eli Manning and Jay Cutler last year. You play as a reserve, but you've been in about 20 percent of the time since you arrived last year. Is this a good spot for an unheralded player to get a foothold in the NFL?
Yes, I think it is a good spot. When I come in, I just do my part. Not try to do too much. When I sacked Eli and Cutler, I mean, that was just me doing whatever I could to help the team. As an undrafted rookie free agent, do whatever you can to stay in the league.
Last week against the Bears, you had quarterback Mitch Trubisky in your sights, but you smelled a rat, stopped, backpedaled, and blew up a screen play. Trubisky had to throw the ball into the ground. Would you have made that play last year?
Maybe not. It comes down to repetitions. The more you see things, the better you are as a player. They didn't block me on that play. I was a free rush, so I was, like, "Something's coming up." Stuff like that, the more repetitions, the more you put yourself in good situations.
That was a pretty nimble play for a guy who's 6-foot-4 and 299 pounds. Did you develop that agility playing other sports? I think you played soccer. Did you tell the team you could kick when Jake Elliott got a concussion?
Yes, I grew up playing soccer, but I got too big and said, "This sport is not for me." But I played pickup soccer, rugby, beach volleyball. I stopped playing soccer when I got to high school.
Yes, I told them I could kick. They let us try kicking on the Tuesday practice the week Jake was hurt. I kicked. It was straight. I hadn't even kicked in five years. I kick with my instep, not my toe. I'm leftfooted.
Do you get back home much? Do you fish when you go? How does the Jersey Shore compare to someplace like Two Dollar Beach in Samoa?
Well, I went back for two weeks in the offseason. Had my grandfather's birthday. I love being in the ocean. That's the calm place. I like going to the beach. I'm a good swimmer.
As for fishing, yes, it's what I do in the offseason. I actually stay in Long Beach, Calif. I went back to Cali on the bye week and went fishing that Thursday. And, um … we're too busy to go to the Jersey Shore.
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