Top prospect Vita Vea to find home in NFL and for family

Updated April 22, 2018 - 1:03 pm

FREMONT, Calif. — No one in the Vea family ever had to wonder.

When Endora wanted inside their South Bay house, the white-furred Bedlington terrier made her desire known. She’d sit in the backyard near the sliding glass door. Her brown-button eyes, like those of a stuffed animal, would search inside for Vita, his brother Sifa, sister Alisi, mother Fipe and father Sione.

Without a whimper, she’d paw at the glass, scratching until someone granted her entry.

In early 2009, Endora wanted inside.

She sat. She pawed. She waited. The family watched from the backyard, but they couldn’t slide open the door. Their house was seized. They no longer had access. They had no home. And yet their dog sat and waited, scratching and scratching.

“It was like, ‘Man, she doesn’t understand we’re leaving,’ ” Alisi said. “’We can’t be here. We don’t live here now.’ It was cute that she did that, and it was kinda sad.”

Vita Vea, the youngest child in his family, remembers the month-plus in a motel that followed. All grown now at age 23, the 347-pound former Washington defensive tackle is expected to be selected Thursday in the first round of the NFL draft. He’s an option for the Raiders with the No. 10 pick.

Regardless where he goes, he has home on his mind.

“I worked my whole life for this,” Vita said. “Being a kid, I knew this was my dream: To one day play in the NFL and have the opportunity to do something special for my parents.”

Family first

Sione and Fipe grew up in Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga.

They didn’t meet until moving to the Bay Area.

Running in the same social circle, he told a friend of hers he thought Fipe was beautiful — he’d actually seen Fipe before on the island, but no relationship had been forged. This time, an introduction was made. On March 12, 1988, they married at a small ceremony in Reno, choosing Nevada because of its more lenient green-card policy, Fipe said.

Alisi was born first. Sifa arrived about five years later.

On Feb. 5, 1995, the future NFL prospect was born, but he almost left the family as soon as he arrived.

Vita is named after Sione’s brother, who was interested in adopting the third child. He and his wife didn’t have any children, and they lived near Sione and Fipe’s home in East Palo Alto. He requested permission to adopt the child since the couple already had one son and daughter.

They obliged initially, but Fipe wasn’t entirely on board.

While pregnant, she would whisper to the unborn Vita that she wouldn’t give him away. She did the same after his birth, becoming increasingly evasive about the agreement. For months, she postponed the baptism. The elder Vita was disappointed but appreciated her attachment. And so, it remained a family of five.

“When I prayed, I asked (God) to give me the courage and strength to say no,” Fipe said.

Vita learned work ethic through his parents’ example.

Fipe followed her sister to the U.S. in 1983 as a babysitter. Over time, she’s handled various jobs, most of which are focused on some form of caregiving. She’s watched over the elderly and children alike, tending to households, gardens and pets while developing a strong attachment with clients.

“She definitely thinks it’s good karma,” Vita said. “Her philosophy is one day we’re all going to be old, and you’re going to want somebody to take care of you, just as how she was taking care of everybody else.”

Sione also has kept busy for the family.

He began work at a gas station in 1984, following his brother to the U.S. so they could send money home to family in Tonga. He specialized in the scaffolding trade. He acquired an 18-wheel rig and worked as an intrastate truck driver. He’s managed an Oakland restaurant. He’s worked as an electrician and in landscape architecture.

Now, at 63, his primary job comes during the morning, shuttling passengers and earning reviews as an Uber driver.

“Mine are always good,” Sione said. “Always five stars.”

These jobs came while raising their children, encouraging them to play sports and entering other after-school programs such as the East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring. They owned two houses, one they rented out in East Palo Alto and another they inhabited in Newark.

Then, the housing crisis struck.

Despite all their efforts, their life was displaced.

Staying together

The waiter or waitress at Hometown Buffet might give a quiet head nod.

Or maybe a wink with a smile.

When the two houses foreclosed, the Vea family moved most of their belongings into storage. Essential items such as clothes were stuffed inside their black Chevrolet Suburban or within the single-bed Motel 6 room in Newark that Sione, Fipe, Sifa and Vita occupied for several weeks.

This was their new home.

Alisi was about 90 minutes north at the time, studying at St. Mary’s College. So it was the parents and two youngest children who stayed there and frequented the Hometown Buffet across the street. They stayed there for hours, in no particular rush to return from lunch to a cramped room where Vita and Sifa slept on the floor.

The waiting staff at the buffet turned a friendly, blind eye as Vita and Sifa wrapped such food items as cookies, fried chicken and small corn dogs into napkins. Fipe did the same, placing food in her purse. These were snacks should they become hungry in the evening.

The family leaned on one another and their Christian faith.

“My brother and I, we had to take it upon ourselves to grow up fast,” Vita said. “Not sit and dwell on something we can no longer control. I relate it to football. Sometimes, plays and games might not go your way. It only matters what you do the next play, how you redeem yourself. … It didn’t matter where we slept. The only thing that mattered is we were all still together.”

Today, Sifa admits the month felt more like “forever.”

When it ended, the family moved to a rental house in Newark not long before Sione found a rental house in Milipitas. This second move was critical because it enabled Vea the opportunity to attend Milipitas High, where he flourished in football.

The family has been renting since.

Vita’s parents worked for what they have. They don’t complain or ask for handouts.

“We survive,” Sione said.

Nonetheless, as the NFL and first-round contract approach, their youngest child still wants to give.

“The one thing I do know is I’m going to get my mom a house, make sure my parents are comfortable over there with their living situations,” Vea said. “That’s one guarantee.”

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

Raiders Videos
Kelsey Martinez no longer listed on Raiders’ coaching staff
Kelsey Martinez, the first female assistant in Raiders history, is no longer listed as with the organization, according to the team’s website. Martinez joined the club in March 2018 under Tom Shaw, the department’s then-coordinator who was dismissed in December. Before joining the Raiders, Martinez worked for 4 years at Tom Shaw Performance at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando. The Raiders did not return requests for comment on Martinez’s status.
Monorail extension will likely not be finished for Raiders 2020 opener
The planned extension to the Las Vegas Monorail system, has not even broken ground yet, and will likely not be completed in time for the Raiders season opener in 2020. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Limo Driver Dan Holmgren Fired
Dan Holmgren was terminated as a Las Vegas limousine driver for leaving his car to chat with Raiders owner Mark Davis and president Marc Badain in front of Caesars Palace on Jan. 28. Dan gives his story to Elaine Emerson in the RJ Studio.
Raiders Stadium Roads
A bevy of road projects that will impact travel to and from the Las Vegas stadium are planned to occur even after the stadium opens in 2020.
Roger Goodell Addresses Media About Raiders Next Season - VIDEO
Roger Goodell addresses media about where the Raiders will play next year and the controversial Rams vs Saints game. Raiders beat writer Michael Gehlken and Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto go over the details.
Senior Bowl a valuable scouting opportunity for Raiders - VIDEO
The Raiders are looking for better defensive prospects at the Senior Bowl due to the results of the 2018 season. Michael Gehlken goes over what the Raiders general manager and head coach are looking for at this years Senior Bowl.
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Senior Bowl Practice Moved Inside Due To Weather - VIDEO
Day three of the Senior Bowl was moved inside for practice due to weather in Alabama. Raiders beat writer Michael Gehlken goes over what players the Raiders are looking out for at the Senior bowl.
Vegas Nation Stadium Show: Retractable Field Update - VIDEO
Much like the Arizona Cardinals field, the Raiders will also be playing on a field tray that can be retracted in order to maintain real grass. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto and Las Vegas Review- Journal reporter Rick Velotta discuss the latest updates regrading the Las Vegas Stadium as well as the groundbreaking of the Raiders headquarters in Henderson.
Raiders Henderson Practice Facility Render - VIDEO
Video of the Raiders practice facility that will be built in Henderson Nevada.
Raiders Headquarters Groundbreaking Ceremony - VIDEO
The Raiders make Henderson their new home with a groundbreaking ceremony. Derek Carr and many other players past a present came together to celebrate the new location. Cassie Soto and Ed Graney report from Henderson, Nevada.
Former Raider James Harris says fans will follow the team "to the moon" - VIDEO
The Oakland Raiders will play in Las Vegas when their team's move is completed in 2020. Former Raiders' defensive end and Las Vegan, James Harris, says fans will follow and support the team "to the moon".
Jim Plunkett on the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, changes under Gruden
At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Raiders new headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, former quarterback Jim Plunkett gave his thoughts on the new facility, the team's move to Las Vegas and what the future holds for the team with head coach Jon Gruden.
JT The Brick says where he thinks the Raiders should play in 2019
At the Raiders headquarters groundbreaking ceremony in Henderson, Nevada, radio host J.T. The Brick gave his take on where he thinks the team should play in 2019 and provided his thoughts on their three, first-round draft picks and more.
Raiders Hold Groundbreaking Ceremony For Henderson Practice Facility
The Raiders hold a groundbreaking ceremony in Henderson for the new practice facility for the teams move to Las Vegas.
A quick look at the Raiders HQ in Henderson
The Raiders held a groundbreaking ceremony for their Las Vegas headquarters, which is based in Henderson, on Monday, Jan. 14th.
Designers of Raiders Field Learn Lessons from Cardinals
The retractable grass in the future home of the Raiders will look largely like an updated and improved version of the field tray system used at State Farm Stadium, home of the Phoenix Cardinals. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Nation: Mahomes Throws his 50th TD in Victory over the Raiders
The Oakland Raiders lose the last game of the season to the Kansas City Chiefs 35-3. Pat Mahomes throws his 50th touchdown and the Chiefs take first place in the division. Cassie Soto is in studio and Michael Gehlken and Ed Graney report from Kansas City.
Raiders look ahead to next season after loss to Chiefs
After the Oakland Raiders' 35-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, players analyze their play and look ahead to what they can do better in the next season.
Vegas Nation: Raiders hire Mike Mayock as new GM
Raiders beat reporter describes newly-hired general manager's opening press conference.
Vegas Nation: Players receive signing bonuses
Raiders beat reporter Michael Gehlken explains why four players received roster bonuses and what that means for their respective futures on the roster.
Vegas Nation Mailbag: Will the Raiders play in Oakland next season?
The Raiders get an emotional win against the Denver Broncos. The game was potentially the Raiders last time playing in the colosseum due to a lawsuit from the city of Oakland. Elaine Wilson and Ed Graney go over the Raider Nation reaction to the game an news.
Vegas Nation: Miller and Parker draw praise
Raiders beat reporter Michael Gehlken takes a look at Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker's Monday Night Football performance against the Denver Broncos.
Vegas Nation: Raiders to face Chiefs in season finale
Raiders beat reporter Michael Gehlken describes how the team is doing after their emotional win over the Denver Broncos, and how they're preparing for the last game of the year in Kansas City.
Raiders Win Emotional Game Against Broncos - Vegas Nation
The Oakland Raiders win their Monday Night football game against the Denver Broncos. This game is potentially the last time the Raiders will play in Oakland before coming to Las Vegas. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto, Raiders beat writer Michael Gehlken and Ed Graney go over the emotional win.
Carr, Gruden reflect on what could be the last game played in Oakland
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr comment on what could be the the last home game the team played at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Raiders locker room after victory over Broncos
Raiders players Jalen Richard, Lee Smith, Karl Joseph, and Erik Harris react to defeating the Denver Broncos in what could be the final game at the Oakland Coliseum.
Raiders fans react to possible final game in Oakland
Raiders fans from around the country respond to the team potentially playing their final game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum prior to Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos.
Vegas Nation: Raiders hold final practice before MNF
Raiders beat reporter Michael Gehlken describes the trouble Von Miller and Bradley Chubb bring to the Raiders offensive line, as well as who's questionable for Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos.
Vegas Nation: McCarron returns to practice
Raiders beat reporter Michael Gehlken reports that back up quarterback AJ McCarron returned to practice on Friday following the birth of his son.
Vegas Nation: Nathan Peterman practices with Raiders
Raiders beat reporter Michael Gehlken unveils the reaction Jon Gruden received after signing quarterback Nathan Peterman to the practice squad.
Vegas Nation Mailbag - December 19, 2018
Elaine Emerson and Ed Graney go over all burning Vegas Nation Raiders questions
Vegas Nation: Raiders prepare for potential final game in Oakland
Raiders beat reporter Michael Gehlken reports on how Christmas Eve could be the final game in Oakland for the Raiders, and how Jon Gruden will handle it with himself and the players.
RJ columnist Ed Graney goes in-depth to find out if an NFL team would have success in London
While London's Cray Wanderers may be the one of the oldest football clubs in the world, could an NFL team have the same success overseas? (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal @HeidiFang)
Raiders Fall To Bengals 30-16 - Vegas Nation
Raiders fall to the Cincinnati Bengals 30-16. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto and Raiders beat writer Michael Gehlken recap the loss.
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing