Stephen Paea, or as his teammates call him Veni which is his Tongan name, grew up in the Tongan Islands before moving to the United States when he was 16. He admits learning English was a tough battle, but he is now excelling both on the field and in the classroom as he has been recognized for his efforts with several awards and honors.
Do you have a favorite sack from last season?
I guess all of them are my favorite, but my ultimate favorite sack was against Utah. It was a play that was meant for the defensive end to go in and get the sack first. He went in there and I was waiting outside covering his back and the quarterback saw him so he ran outside so then I ran after him and got him. I had to run and catch him instead of him just standing there.
Is there anyone in the Pac-10 you haven’t been able to get, but want to?
I wanted to sack [Mark] Sanchez. I had two chances to do it last year but they were holding me, and they called the penalty, but I almost had those two sacks.
What’s it like being a twin? Does he play football as well?
It’s crazy because it’s a surprise to me every day to think that I have a twin brother because I don’t think of him like that very often and he is the one proud of me because I am here. He is the one to tell everyone, ‘he is my twin brother,’ but when he comes up here, I hardly say he is my twin brother because he is smaller than I am and we don’t look alike either. It’s one of those things; it’s a miracle to come out a twin. I used to live with him my junior college year. I lived with him for half a year and it was the best time of my life because he is my best friend and we just hung out and did everything together. The only thing that is the same between us is he is athletic and very smart in math; we are both good in math. Our senior year in high school we had mathematics tests and I sat there thinking ‘I am beating him or he is beating me.’ It’s just me and him going at each other. He is playing football. He is a safety at Foothills Junior College with my little brother. They are going to come up here around January.
What was the transition like from Vav’u to the USA?
It was big. As a developing country we are lead by a king and everything is politics over there. It’s different over here. For example, if I was watching a movie and there is a bottle of Sunny D, you don’t even know what that is down there and over here if you see it in a movie you can get it at the store. If you are hungry over here you can go out and get something to eat, but back there you have to cook for your own and you live on your own. Learning English was different. This conversation right now, I wouldn’t have been able to have it three or four years ago. It was hard. I would have to go to class and explain something, but it would be hard to explain it. With math problems I would just say ‘here you go’ because I couldn’t explain what I did step-by-step.
Do you still speak Tongan?
Yes, I usually speak it to my teammates because they know a lot. They try to talk to me in Tongan so I talk back to help them improve. My mom doesn’t want us to talk in English to each other just so we can keep the language.
Are there any Tongan expressions you use to motivate yourself and your teammates?
Yeah we always say our motto in Tonga, ‘mate ma’a Oregon State’ like you do everything, you do your best for Oregon State. Pretty much you die for Oregon State. You sacrifice everything for Oregon State. It’s pretty cool.
You were rated the eighth best performance in a bowl game by ESPN, what was it like receiving that honor?
It was a surprise because I am on the defensive line and Slade Norris was the one to go in there. I would run the stunts with the D-End and get the D-End to the quarterback and I guess they saw that. Bruce Feldman saw it and recognized it. There were a couple stunts where they both got in there and I was double-teamed so they got the one-on-ones, or they got free sometimes, Slade and Vic [Butler], and it made it easy for them. It was an honor because I thought it was the whole defensive line that was number eight, not just me.
How is the bursa sac in her knee?
I’m working on it. It’s easier to run, but if I get hit on it then it is going to come back out. I am trying to do a lot of treatments, but it is getting better. To help prevent it, it helps to stay on my feet during practice. If we have to tackle, I don’t tackle the running back, but I can tackle in a game. If a running back was to cross me and I was to make a tackle, then the first thing to hit is my knee. If I land on my left knee, it’s ok, but if I land on my right knee then it won’t be good.
How tough was it graduating early and getting your Associates of Arts?
It was kind of tough because I lived alone and I had just gotten out of high school. Getting 20 credits a term was hard; it was about eight classes a term.
Do you have any nick names?
They call me The Hulk because I am strong and they call me The Beast sometimes. It’s pretty cool, but I just prefer my name. Sometimes they call me Veni because it’s short for Sitiveni, which is my name in Tongan.