KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo’s smile says it all; he is happy to be back for another stint with the Chiefs.
The 6-0, 324-pound Fangupo, whom the Chiefs waived on May 15, returned on July 31 in time for training camp. He has made an impact, appearing in all three preseason games and recording two tackles while working mostly with the second-team unit.
“All you got to do is do what Coach says,” Fangupo said. “I’m glad to be back, though. Thank God this is my job. You have to thank the Big Man upstairs.”
Playing football, however, was the last thing on Fangupo’s mind during the early summer months after his release in May.
That event left the 30-year-old defensive tackle, a devoutly religious man, with a hard decision to potentially walk away from the game he loved playing after spending time on the Chiefs practice squad in 2014.
“I stayed around here, ran in parks and just kind of felt like I should move on now,” Fangupo said. “Of course, I was upset about it. My wife told me, count your blessings, you got us, you got God, let’s go. So I got up, put everything in the car and drove to Utah, didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The native of Orange County, Calif., decided to go into coaching and returned to Brigham Young University, where he enrolled in classes with a view to help out the football team.
“I was going to be a student assistant, work my way to a graduate assistant, try to impress as many people as I can in my ability to coach,” Fangupo said. “I’ve always had this talent talking to people. Everything went smooth at BYU.”
A tragic incident and two telephone calls changed everything.
The first call arrived July 22 and the voice on the other end of the telephone informed Fangupo his close friend from church, Dave Douglas, was murdered on July 19 in Anaheim, Calif.
Douglas, 51, was gunned down after he and a second man, John Anderson, confronted a group of men spray painting on the street, according to Alyssa Duranty of The Orange County Register.
“He was doing the church thing where you go visit people with someone else and that guy survived,” Fangupo said. “It’s just sad. That’s the thing. It’s hard to help people nowadays because of stories like that. The most nonthreatening-looking man. It was just sad.”
Two separate arrests were made in connection with the murder. But discussions between Sheriff’s investigators and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office resulted in a decision to not file charges, according to news releases obtained from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
The investigation into Douglas’ murder remains open, according to an email received by Emily Osterberg, public relations manager of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Meanwhile, a distraught Fangupo was preparing to attend Douglas’ funeral when the second telephone call arrived in late July.
The Chiefs had previously reached out to Fangupo’s agent before Douglas’ murder, but Fangupo wasn’t intrigued at the prospect of playing again.
“Tell them I’m done,” Fangupo said he instructed his agent. “I’m not interested, I’m coaching. Kansas City called, he called me, I said tell them I’m done.”
This time around wasn’t that easy, however, because Chiefs coach Andy Reid personally made the call with a simple message.
“Get on the plane,” Fangupo said. “And me, I feel like, man, Coach Reid, he really fed my family last year. The least I can do is show up. So out of respect for Reid, I came, got my mind right.”
Reid was happy Fangupo decided to give playing professional football another chance.
“We had been talking to his agent, and then the tragedy happens,” Reid said. “You find out, especially when you’re young, you find out something like that happens that life continues to move. Sometimes you got to jump up, pull yourself together and go, so he did that.”
Fangupo’s decision to sign with the Chiefs came after deep reflection, and most of it surrounded his friend, a man he affectionately called “Brother Douglas,” and what could’ve been.
“I talked to him a lot of times about his dreams,” Fangupo said. “He wanted to build his house and I told him I’d help him build it. And he never had that.”
Douglas’ lost opportunity to fulfill a lifelong goal prompted Fangupo to pursue his own dreams.
He hopes to stick with an NFL team after stints with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steeler and Chiefs since entering the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent out of BYU.
More importantly, he has an opportunity to play for a head coach he respects.
“I’m a spiritual guy, he’s a spiritual guy, and like once he asked me, it was like no question,” Fangupo said of Reid. “Everyone kept telling me, ‘You’re going to be a hitting dummy.’ So be it. I owe him that.”
The Chiefs head coach believes Fangupo made the right decision.
“He decided to play again and I think that’s good,” Reid said. “I think it’s good for everybody and most of all for him.”