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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah football player Star Lotulelei, Tuesday, May 29 2012 in Salt Lake City.
Utah football: A Star is born — Lotulelei’s NFL stock soars

One mock draft has defensive star No. 1 overall; others have him in top 10.

First Published Jun 01 2012 12:25 pm • Last Updated Sep 11 2012 11:32 pm

The offense was struggling to get a first down, the defense was uncharacteristically playing without any spark and the team’s overall poor effort against Cal was exasperating Utah’s football coaches.

Needing something, anything, to change the tone of their game, Utah’s coaches decided to run a trick play and inserted defensive lineman Star Lotulelei to use him on a fake punt.

At a glance

Star Lotulelei file

Heightt/Weight » 6-4/325

Class » Senior

Position » Defensive tackle

Hometown » South Jordan

Noteworthy » All-America candidate was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2011. … Won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman in 2011. … Most valuable lineman of the Sun Bowl. … Started all 13 games at defensive tackle. … Played for Snow College in 2008, then took 2009 off before joining the Utes. … Helped Bingham win the state title and go 14-0 in 2007.

Star’s stats

Season G/GS UT AT TFL Sacks

2010 13/3 7 14 2.5 0

2011 13/13 16 28 9.0 1.5

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The 6-foot-4, 325-pound Lotulelei caught a pass from punter Sean Sellwood and lumbered 17 yards for a first down.

While the play didn’t change the outcome of the game — the Utes lost 34-10 in what coach Kyle Whittingham calls one of his most frustrating losses of his career — Lotulelei’s effort did provide the Utes with one of the best individual highlights of the year.

"Who knows, maybe we’ll put him in the backfield this year," Whittingham said with a devilish giggle.

Once known as an inconsistent, even lazy football player at Bingham High — and his grades were as spotty as his on-field effort — Lotulelei has evolved into one of the Utes’ most mature players on and off the field.

He has also become one of the most promising NFL prospects the school has ever produced.

Lotulelei has been projected as a first-round NFL pick by several media outlets and the No. 1 overall pick in a recent ESPN mock draft. While that projection has left some scouts mocking the draft — they find it hard to believe a defensive tackle would go No. 1 — it does not obscure the consensus that Lotulelei is expected to become a force in the NFL.

"His style is what people want," said one NFL scout, who asked not to be identified because of team rules. "He is naturally strong and it sounds like a cliché, but he has the big body to clog up the middle. It takes two guys to block him. His position is more of a dirty man’s work, but he does it well and is athletic for his size."

The high praise and ratings aren’t bad for a kid who once was so disheartened with the sport he gave it up for a year.

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Now, Lotulelei is all in, and still looking to punish folks in the 2012 season.

"I want to take care of business this year," he said. "There are still things I have to improve on in my game, which is why I decided to come back."

Desire regained » Actually, Lotulelei came back to football twice — most recently deciding he’d stay for his senior year at Utah rather than head to the NFL. But he would never have gotten to make that decision if it weren’t for the key moment when he quit football following a year of playing for Snow College.

As a high school senior, Lotulelei rightfully assumed he had the talent to play for a major college and had BYU, Utah and Oregon chasing after him. However, he wrongly assumed his talent would overcome a poor effort in the classroom.

When he didn’t qualify academically, a disheartened Lotulelei enrolled at Snow College, where in 2008 he struggled to find the passion for the game. Ultimately, he decided the sport was no longer for him.

"I was real discouraged and depressed and needed to figure out what I was going to do," Lotulelei said.

He found his answer watching his younger brother Lowell and his cousin, fellow Ute LT Filiaga, play during the 2009 season.

"It made me miss football," he said. "If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today."

Revitalized, he joined the Utes in 2010 and played in all 13 games as he showed a new dedication to football. The guy who had the reputation of a slacker was replaced by one who had not only the physical presence to be a game changer, but also, finally, the desire to be one.

"The knock on him is he’d play hard one play, then take a play off," said Bingham coach Dave Peck. "He was a real talented kid, but he just wasn’t motivated. He was solid for us, but he’d just go away at times. I didn’t know how it would go for him at Utah, but he has become a real mature kid. He always had the talent, but the decision for him to stay in school and get his degree tells me how much he has matured."

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Star’s rise

The hype is already building around Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Here is a sample of where he is projected to go in the 2013 NFL Draft by various blogs and news organizations.

ESPN » No. 1, Indianapolis

The Gritz Blitz » No. 8, Dallas

CBS Sports » No. 2, Minnesota

Bleacher Report » No. 7, Washington

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