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Opportunity knocks for rookie NT Hebron Fangupo

Posted Aug 22, 2012

Texans nose tackle Hebron Fangupo gets his nickname, “Loni,” from Hepeloni. It’s the Tongan version of his first name.


Texans nose tackle Hebron Fangupo gets his nickname, “Loni,” from Hepeloni. It’s the Tongan version of his first name, which he says is a Biblical site in Jerusalem where the prophet Abraham was buried.

Fangupo’s friends, family, coaches and teammates call him Loni. But his name on the Texans’ roster, per Fangupo’s request, is listed as Hebron.

Why?

“My boss-slash-wife prefers Hebron,” Fangupo said on Wednesday.

Asked about Texans head coach Gary Kubiak seeming to prefer Loni, Fangupo smiled and quipped, “I don’t go home to Coach.”

Moments earlier, Fangupo had explained his name (pronounced HEE-brawn) to a group of reporters at Reliant Stadium as “like LeBron, but Hebron.”

Name intrigue aside, Fangupo (6-0, 319) is a 27-year-old undrafted rookie from BYU with a big opportunity on his immediate horizon. With two preseason games remaining, he and Earl Mitchell are only healthy nose tackles currently on the Texans’ roster. Starter Shaun Cody is sidelined by a back injury. Sonny Harris is headed for injured reserve because of a triceps injury.

“I’ve been taught ever since I got to college, when you get the opportunity, take it,” Fangupo said. “I never wanted to take opportunity in this fashion, to happen in this way. Because going through camp, you build a relationship with every man you’re going through drills with, and you tend to care for them. I personally actually pray for each one of them every day.

“This opportunity coming, I’m not going to take it as like jumping in to take (Harris’) spot or anything. I’m coming in and I hope to get the opportunity to make the Texans fans proud, myself proud, the coaching staff proud, especially my wife back home – for this opportunity to provide for her. So I prayed for that opportunity every day, but I never wanted it to come in this fashion. One promise I will make is I’ll hold the point and I’ll do my best out there.”

A devout Mormon, Fangupo served a two-year mission in the Philippines after high school. He was born in Orange County, Calif., but spent much of his childhood on the Polynesian island of Tonga. He did not play football until his sophomore year at Century (Calif.) High School.

Fangupo enrolled at Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) Junior College in 2007, went to USC in 2009 and transferred to BYU for his final season in 2011. He was one of the top prospects of the 21 undrafted free agents signed by the Texans after the draft, but he missed most of OTAs (organized team activities) with a knee injury. He was behind Cody, Mitchell and Harris on the depth chart until the recent wave of injuries.

“Loni will get a good look,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Wednesday. “He’s got some potential. He really hasn’t shown it yet, and so this is an opportunity for him.”

The Texans only kept two nose tackles on their final 53-man roster last year, so Fangupo could have long odds to make it unless he is outstanding over the next two weeks. But he’s going to get a chance.

“This Saturday and Thursday night, if Loni wants to make it in this league, boy, there’s no excuses,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “He’ll get every rep he can possibly get. He’ll get to play a bunch. We’ll see how he shows up and plays, but what an opportunity for him due to the circumstances right now.”


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