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LOS ANGELES — Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei won a share of the 2011 Morris Trophy, the award given to the best lineman in the Pac-12. He is projected by many NFL draft experts to be a top five pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. It's hard to believe that all of his accomplishments and accolades almost never happened.
Star was a 3-star defensive tackle prospect at Bingham High School. He helped lead the Miners to the 2006 5A state championship and committed to play college football at BYU. There were high expectations for the all-state selection but he failed to qualify academically and became so discouraged that he quit football.
|Birthplace||South Jordan, Utah|
"When I found out that my next option was Snow College it deflated my want to play football," he remembers.
So instead of playing football Star went to work for furniture store. It didn't take long delivering furniture for him to realize just how much he missed the game of football.
"I went to watch a couple games with my little brother and started to miss it," he says.
He decided he would give football another try. He asked his uncle to help him train and he ended up attending Snow College with the determination and resolve to reach his goals on and off the field.
He had 52 tackles, 14 for a loss and 3 sacks for Snow in 2008. He would sit out another year in 2009 as he focused on academics with the hope of getting in to an FBS school. He put in a lot of time in the classroom.
Star finally made the grade and landed at Utah where he has developed into the most feared defensive lineman in the Pac-12 earning praise from opposing coaches.
"He reminds me of Haloti Ngata. He's in that same category," says Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. "He's just a disruptive force."
"He's a dynamic player," says new Arizona State head coach Todd Graham who played against Utah last year as head coach at Pittsburgh. "He's a guy who can take control of the line of scrimmage and be very impactful to the outcome of a football game."
Star could have left Utah early and entered the 2012 NFL draft. Some experts believe he would have been as high as a late first round draft pick but he turned down the money to return for his senior year.
"That was probably the biggest coup of the season," jokes Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "We're excited that we've got him in the lineup for one more year."
Despite what experts said about his draft stock Star didn't feel ready to make the move to the NFL. He believes he still needs to work on his technique, and improve his conditioning to play at the next level. When he considers how far he has come the past four years he is just grateful that he will have a chance.
"That one decision, coming back to football, it's made a huge difference," Star says. "Hopefully it will make a bigger difference in the future."
Star will graduate this December with a degree in Sociology. His coach believes his decision to return to school will also pay off on the field as well.
"It's a great story," says Kyle Whittingham. "I'm more than certain it's going to have a great ending."