"He's a guy that's been through all the fire and he's been through the battles on the field. So guys really, really respect him and they respond well whenever he speaks," Sitake said. "But more than anything he's really humble and he doesn't just say it, he leads the way. I'm really grateful that he's back."
The reasons are plentiful and the upside is high, way high.
"Going into last season we felt that he had a chance to be one of the best defensive linemen in the conference. He proved to be the best as evidenced by the Morris Trophy award," Whittingham said. "If you want to build a defense, there's not a better guy to build it around than Star Lotulelei."
Last season, Lotulelei led a Utah defense that gave up an average of just 97 rushing yards per game and only 2.9 yards per carry. Lotulelei finished the season with 44 tackles, including nine behind the line of scrimmage. He also had 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 17-yard pass reception on a fake punt.
Despite it all, Lotulelei opted not to seek an evaluation from the NFL Advisory Committee about turning pro after his junior season.
"There was really no use in me really finding out all that stuff," Lotulelei said. "I think if I do my job, if I help this team out and we go a little bit further than we did last season, I think all that stuff will work out the way it's supposed to. So I really wasn't too worried about that."
Lotulelei did weigh his options, however. He even consulted with former teammate Sealver Siliga, who left early and went undrafted before signing on as a free agent. Lotulelei acknowledged that had a "little bit" to do with his decision to remain in school.
"He actually talked to me about it," Lotulelei said. "… He was actually one of the ones who advised me to stay, finish out my schooling here and finish out my senior year. So with him telling me those kind of things it really helped out."
The players, however, had different circumstances surrounding their decisions.
Lotulelei, wife Angelina and the couple's two children are currently living with his parents for free. The grandparents help with the kids, as do the in-laws, when Star is at school and his wife is at work.
"They've made it a lot easier on us," Lotulelei said.
All hasn't gone smoothly, however.
Angelina is a cashier at a restaurant and has had people ask what her husband was thinking. She wouldn't be working right now if he opted for the NFL.
Other folks, though, have thanked Lotulelei for his decision to finish school and set a great example.
"It's really just something that I want to do for myself, for my family, and for my wife and kids — getting that education and that degree," Lotulelei said.
Until then, the NFL is on the back burner. It's not something he's worrying about.
"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 said. "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."
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