Utah football: Star in making? Lotulelei hopes to emulate brother (video)
Since joining the Utes this summer, it has been catch-up for Lowell Lotulelei.
Running was the hardest thing, the freshman defensive tackle said. He came back early from his LDS Church mission weighing 330 pounds 30 pounds heavier than he was when he played as a senior at Bingham High School. He was also catching up in the weight room, catching up on the playbook.
It helps, then, to have an older brother who can help you pull back in line with the pack. Every day, Lowell gets texts from older brother Star Lotulelei, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers. Usually, it's encouragement.
Sometimes, it's advice like this: "He told me you have to get a lot of knock-back. Coming to the line, when he was here, he would just knock people back and that seems to work and was the easiest thing to do. So I'm trying that."
Sure, just keep knocking 300-pound Pac-12 linemen off the line of scrimmage and you'll be fine. Easy enough.
If it sounds like overly simplistic advice, remember it isn't meant for normal people: It's for a Lotulelei.
Lowell has been out of football for a year and a half and he's only been in the program for about three months. But already, coaches and teammates appreciate how high the 19-year-old's ceiling could be, perhaps as high as his first-round NFL Draft pick brother's.
There's shades of recognition every time Lowell takes the field: the power, the explosiveness he looks like Star.
"They're both tough as nails," defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki said. "For both of them, the way they walk around and move, you don't expect them to be as explosive as they are. You don't expect those big guys to move like that."
Lowell was a pleasant surprise for the Utes this summer, returning a year ahead of schedule, and he's already working his way into the defensive tackle rotation.
According to Kyle Whittingham, he'll play this year.
"He's a big strong kid, he's like his brother," Whittingham said. "He's a guy who worked his tail off this summer."
Work hasn't really been a problem for Lotulelei during his football career, and neither has it been hard for him to make an early impact. He was on varsity for four years at Bingham, cracking the rotation of two undefeated state championship teams as a freshman and sophomore.
As he grew, he only stood out more. During his senior year, the Miners played Cottonwood in a first-round playoff game. Then-quarterback Cooper Bateman, who now plays for Alabama, was under center for the Colts on fourth-and-inches, and he was going for it.
Sensing the QB sneak, Lotulelei smashed his weight into the Cottonwood center at the snap, pushing him into Bateman. Loss of 1 yard, turnover on downs. Play demolished from the second it started.
Bingham coach Dave Peck can still see it so clearly, one of the many times he saw potential greatness in his defensive tackle.
"He's as talented a D-lineman as we've had here at Bingham," said Peck, who has produced his share of defensive line prospects in his time. "He's strong, he's athletic. If he puts his mind to it, I think he can be a great one like his brother."
One area where Lowell isn't yet like his brother: leadership.
Star's play spoke volumes for him, but his shadow is greater than his statistics. Lowell is trying to make his way on a team with players who look up to Star as their own brother. Defensive end Nate Orchard, in many ways the leader of this Utah defense, called Star "a great role model."
The pressure doesn't necessarily come from others, Lowell said. A lot of his expectations come from within.
"I have a lot on myself, just with how big Star was here and what he did for the program," he said. "But right now, I'm just trying to learn everything I can. Learn as much as possible."
In the meantime, even when he can't keep his phone with him, he keeps a reminder of his brother with him. Both Lowell and Star are growing their hair out in dual rat tails.
Star described it to the Charlotte Observer as a bonding activity. But like other aspects of his life, Lowell sees it as brotherly competition.
"I started growing mine earlier," he said. "I'm going to win."
Lowell Lotulelei file
•Â The state's No. 2 prospect in the 2013 class
• Had 61 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble as a senior at Bingham.
• Older brother Star Lotulelei was an All-American defensive tackle for the Utes, and a first-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers.
What aboutthe Aggies?
Utah has added Northern Illinois to its schedule for 2017 and '18, but the Utes don't have any games scheduled against Utah State after next season's matchup in Salt Lake City. âº http://www.sltrib.com/sports
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