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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utah defense picks up some help

Utah's defense has some more talent at its disposal with the NCAA declaring freshman Pita Taumoepenu eligible.

Taumoepenu, a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder out of Timpview H.S., has been with the team since fall camp, but the NCAA needed extra time to sort out his academic work because he attended two high schools in Tonga, then transferred to Timpview during his junior year. There was some concern he might have repeated a grade, but the issues have been sorted out and Taumoepenu can play immediately.

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Since he was enrolled only as a part-time student at Utah, Taumoepenu couldn't participate in team activities such as practice once classes started.

However, coaches are confident it won't take him long to get up to speed. Plans are to use him on special teams first.

Once he has caught up, Taumoepenu could give the Utes some much needed help at linebacker, where the Utes are thin in depth with senior Brian Blechen out for several weeks while recovering from knee surgery for his tendinitis.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said it will be at least three to four weeks before the Utes will decide whether to redshirt Blechen or not.

As a defensive end for Timpview last year, Taumoepenu totaled 25 sacks, including four in the 4-A state title game to help the Thunderbirds beat Mountain Crest 38-31.

It was a remarkable year for a player who was experiencing his first full season of organized football. What he lacked in experience he made up for in raw talent with a quick, physical frame.

He is just the kind of player Utah's coaches have a long history of turning into top talents.

Taumoepenu originally committed to BYU but changed his commitment to Utah because BYU had met its recruiting limits.

- Lya Wodraska

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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