Destiny Vaeao signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent last spring and managed to crack the 53-man roster and play 16 games as a rookie
Former Washington State defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie free agent after going undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft.
But of all former Washington State players who were NFL rookies in 2016 – a list that includes Joe Dahl, a fifth-round selection of the Detroit Lions – Vaeao saw the most action in his first season as a pro.
Vaeao, a 6-foot-3, 299-pound defensive tackle, played in all 16 games for the Eagles during his rookie season, seeing action in about 26 percent of Philadelphia’s total defensive snaps.
He finished with 15 total tackles, and some highlight-reel worthy film that includes a strip sack of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and a sack of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning in a game where Vaeao tallied a season-high four tackles.
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Now in his first NFL offseason, Vaeao, a native of Samoa, is back on the West Coast and staying with his brother in Los Angeles until he has to report back to Philadelphia for offseason workouts in April.
We caught up with Vaeao recently for a quick Q&A:
Seattle Times: You managed to crack the 53-man roster and played in every game your rookie season. Did you expect to make that sort of an impact going into your first year as a pro?
Destiny Vaeao: I was not thinking about expecting anything. But the more you put in, the more work you get, the better the outcome. I don’t think about the stats. It’s not about that. I’m just going out there and making plays and getting the opportunity to show what I can do.
ST: You had several teams interested in you after the draft. Why did you opt to sign with Philadelphia?
Vaeao: It was a perfect fit for me based on their defense. The way they play their front was similar to what we played in college. Jim Schwartz’s defense is more an attacking style like coach (Alex) Grinch’s.
ST: What’s been the biggest difference for you between the college game and the pro game?
Vaeao: Being a pro, coming out every day you’ve got to be perfect. There’s no such thing as, “How was your day?” and answering “Oh it was all right.” There’s no such thing of all right. It has to be great or good all the time. So just being a pro and being consistent all the time was the biggest difference. And the competition and the speed of the game was way faster.
ST: Did you find any veteran players in the Eagles’ locker room who were willing to show you the ropes?
Vaeao: It was a great place. The players really help you out and they want you to be successful. I made a lot of friends on the team, especially on our defensive line. And I was able to learn a lot from two-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox.
ST: Did you manage to find any time to see Philadelphia?
Vaeao: I was focused on the season, so I didn’t have time to go out to Philly. I rented an apartment and had a roommate, (former Oregon State OL) Isaac Seumalo. I knew Isaac from playing in college, and it was the Polynesian thing too – if you’re Polynesian you know each other.
ST: At which point of the season did you start to feel comfortable in the defense?
Vaeao: The more I played, the more games I ended up going into and playing, the confidence was there. The first game, you’re kinda nervous as a rookie coming in. But as the season went on, I started to have confidence in myself (and think) “I can do this.” I learned from my mistakes, and I watched a lot of film.
ST: What are your plans for this offseason?
Vaeao: Just working out, trying to get back to offseason workouts. Work out and stay healthy – that’s the number one thing in the league. You’ve got to take care of your body and eat right before the season. Right now I’m just taking care of my body, doing some cardio work and stuff like that. It was a long season, and you’ve got to have a little break before you start again.
ST: What were some of the things you had to do to stay healthy during the season?
Vaeao: On your off days you’ve really gotta go into the facility and take care of your body. The more you put out, the more you’ve got to put back into your body.
ST: Did you manage to make it back to Pullman at all last fall?
Vaeao: Yes I did on our bye week. I came over to Pullman when they played Oregon and it was great being there. Pullman has a special place in my heart. It’s a great community and I love it. I have a lot of memories from my time in Pullman because it’s where it all started.
ST: What did you think when you heard about defensive line coach Joe Salave’a leaving WSU for Oregon?
Vaeao: I still talk to coach Joe. To me, whatever is best for him and his family, that’s all that counts.
ST: At the start of last season, several Samoan players were accused of crimes, and Mike Leach at one point said the police were targeting his players and that profiling had occurred. Were you aware of all that stuff that went on with the Samoan players at WSU in the fall and did you talk to guys like Robert Barber or Shalom Luani whom you were friends with?
Vaeao: I don’t want to talk about it. I was in the season and I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on there, I was just focusing on what I had to do. We just talked, but I never tell them what to do.
ST: Have you been back to Samoa recently?
Vaeao: After the Sun Bowl game (in 2015) I went back to Samoa for one week just to see my mom and family before the next phase of my life started.
ST: What are you hoping to accomplish going into your second NFL season?
Vaeao: A lot. I have one year under my belt now, and I learned a lot. I know what to expect now. And I’m going to just go out there and compete, and hopefully be able to earn a starting spot. That’s my goal.