There’s not a typo atop Todd McShay’s early edition of his 2013 Mock NFL Draft on ESPN.com, which has Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei as the projected No. 1 overall pick.
Who, you ask?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Not many people know Lotulelei (full first name: Starlite) like, say, they do USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a celebrity in Los Angeles that doubles as a college kid.
Lotulelei (pronounced lo-too-leh-lay) is every bit a man. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound defensive tackle passed on entering the 2012 NFL Draft so that he could could return to Utah to finish his sociology degree – telling the Deseret News that there was no doubt he’d return to complete his academic requirements.
“Education is very important to Star,” Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said, according to the newspaper. “We all know that a football career can be a fleeting proposition and to have that degree in hand in December is very important to him.
“I’m proud of him for making that decision.”
It has been a long journey for Lotulelei, who likely didn’t think he’d have a decision to make. Born in Tonga and growing up in South Jordan, UT, Lotulelei could not get into BYU after an all-state high school career due to academics.
He played at Snow College in Ephraim, UT, in 2008 and attended the school in 2009 but did not play football. When Lotulelei arrived in Salt Lake City in 2010, he earned a starting role at defensive tackle just three games into the season and even some saw time at offensive guard.
Lotulelei built on that in 2011, when he was selected First Team All-Pac-12, won the Morris Trophy – given to the conference’s best defensive lineman and voted on by the players – and was named the best lineman in the Sun Bowl, where Utah beat Georgia Tech, 30-27.
Lotulelei certainly has made an impression in Salt Lake, where he is a man among boys in more ways than one. He has a wife, Angelina, and two children and has an aforementioned desire to put his studies before a professional football career.
“I’m really focused on spring ball right now with this team, trying to get better as a D-line, as a defense, as a team as a whole,” Lotulelei told the Deseret News. “When (the NFL) comes I’ll start thinking about it, but for right now I’m really just focused on what we’re doing here and looking forward to the season.”
While he had a great season in 2011, the newspaper said that Lotulelei vows to make big on-field improvements for 2012. He didn’t have overwhelming stats last season, recording just 44 tackles and 1.5 sacks. But the true value of a defensive tackle can’t always be measured in individual numbers. The Utes finished 19th in scoring defense and 2.9 yards per carry.
At the next level, Lotulelei could be a huge asset for a 3-4 NFL defense, which is predicated on space-eating defensive tackles that allow linebackers to roam free and make plays. That’s something that Lotulelei certainly can do right now.
In McShay’s mock draft, he has Lotulelei going first overall to the Indianapolis Colts, assuming that Indy again has the worst record in the NFL, which is a strong possibility even with Andrew Luck.
But Indy’s defensive line, which has sustained on pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis for years, would welcome Lotulelei with open arms, as new head coach Chuck Pagano has arrived with his 3-4 defensive scheme.
It’s possible that Lotulelei could be the next Haloti Ngata, a three-time Pro Bowler for the Baltimore Ravens. And we all know who that is.