Ole Miss got Robert Nkemdiche. Oregon State landed Dashon Hunt. Alabama was blessed with A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen.
The big name prospects across the country signed bright and early on Wednesday morning in college football’s annual February frenzy, but none were bigger to capital city sports fans than Juneau-Douglas High School senior Phillip Fenumiai.
“We are really happy,” Western Oregon University head football coach Arne Ferguson said. “Extremely happy. Phillip is big, he is athletic, he throws the ball extremely well and he just loves to compete. He has already requested a playbook. That is the type of kid he is.”
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound quarterback/defensive back signed a National Letter of Intent at 10 a.m. yesterday morning to play football for the Western Oregon University Wolves, in Monmouth.
WOU went 6-5 last season and finished second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 6-4 mark. The Wolves signed 18 players Wednesday, the official first day of the college football signing period.
“I feel good, honestly, I feel like any other day,” Fenumiai said. “I picked Western Oregon because they stuck bye me.”
Originally WOU thought they had no chance getting Fenumiai as he was being courted by numerous Division I schools.
A season opening knee injury in August against Thunder Mountain High School showed the business side of college football and teams grew hesitant.
Except for Western.
“They thought I was going to be grabbed by some bigger schools,” Fenumiai said. “When the injury happened and they heard schools were backing off and weren’t calling me any more, they hopped on me right away and I jumped to the top of their recruiting list. It means a lot to me that they were willing to still stand by my side, thinking I can still play. That meant a lot. A lot of loyalty there.”
Fenumiai will be reunited with former Crimson Bears’ teammate Colin Gozelski, a wide receiver. Two other Alaskans are on the roster as well, Craig’s Houston Vaughan, a tight end, and Kenai’s AJ Hull.
On a campus visit two weeks ago Fenumiai stayed with WOU back up quarterback Trey Shimabukuro, a 6-foot3, 205-pound Polynesian from Kauai, Hawaii, one of many Polynesians on the roster.
“It was pretty cool hanging out with all the teammates,” Fenumiai said. “Especially the Polynesian side. I knew coach Tapasa (offensive line coach) from a camp in Texas and he introduced me to all the Polynesian players, I hung out with them and I felt like I knew them forever already. I connected with the whole team right away, so that is cool.”
The Wolves run a multiple packages offense and try to get 80-100 plays off in a game.
“Primarily out of the shotgun,” Fenumiai said. “Which is good. It is a lot of high tempo.”
The offense is similar to that run by the University of Oregon and Boise State, and dictated by as much as the quarterback an handle. The Wolves hope to run 20-30 more plays than their opponent.
“When he came down to visit his positive personality and quarterback leadership just jumped out,” coach Ferguson said. “We have seen enough of him on film to know what kind of player he is. With all of our recruits, and especially Phillips personality and intelligence we expect him to fight for a competing spot. The kid is very competitive, very driven, and hard working, so I do not want to put limits on him at all. We are just excited to get him out on the field and see what he can do. He is coming in as quarterback and we expect him to stay at quarterback. We know he can play other positions but our quarterback is a very athletic position with tremendous leadership skills. We push the tempo and they have to be able to handle all that.”
Fenumiai hopes to major in Exercise Sciences or Physical Therapy.
His own rehabilitation has gone well and although the basketball season is still out, he has an interest in joining best friend Jackson Lehnhart on the soccer pitch, at least in the goalmouth.
“They said it would be entertaining to see me out there playing,” Fenumiai laughed. “It would be a cool experience.”
Fans who have longed to see Fenumiai back in the Crimson Bears black and red uniforms since he was injured in August, will not need to change their color themed apparel as the Wolves boast the same fierce palette of crimson and midnight.
The Wolves will open the season Sept. 7 at Eastern Washington University, just a short flight and road trip for what is sure to be a large Alaskan fan base. The game is one-week after Eastern plays Oregon State.
“We are excited to get Phillip on the field there and see what he can do,” Ferguson said. “We think he is a player.”
The quality of Fenumiai’s play this season was evident even though he only played
“They are getting a good one,” JDHS head football coach Rich Sjoroos said. “It is a steal in my mind. I think he is going to do nothing but good things for them. He is one of the few kids out there who goes in college ready. He has that work ethic and drive.”
Sjoroos stated that at all the camps over the years that JDHS attended, coaches would always approach him about Fenumiai’s talent.
The injury this season only solidified the football talent of Fenumiai.
Sjoroos said Fenumiai would always be used as an example of a kid who made the most of the hand he was dealt.
“I have had numerous kids get hurt before the season or early in the season and their season is lost,” Sjoroos said. “It is difficult to feel attached to the team and find your place. Phillip worked, in some ways harder, to be a part of the team through injury than he would if he played in the season. He really put the effort in, kept his mind set and didn’t give up even though he knew he would not play.”
Fenumiai showed up every day for practice, became the organizer of the scout team, and found a role.
“You just don’t find kids that would sacrifice so much to be a part of the team,” Sjoroos said. “We didn’t get to have him for the season but we got a taste of what he could do.”
When the team traveled to a camp in preseason in Boise they scrimmaged against two schools in Washington.
“He was lights out the whole time,” Sjoroos said. “And then he plays two drives against Thunder Mountain and we get two scores. Our only offensive points in the first half. That kind of shows you some of what he was all about. I will always use him as an example of a guy who persevered through some tough times. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
The top 100 high school recruit commitments can be seen at