Pac-12 Media Day: Utes' Star Lotulelei shines as he gingerly steps into the spotlight
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — As soon as they checked into their hotel at Universal Studios Hollywood on Friday afternoon, Utah's player representatives for Pac-12 Media Day separated. Running back John White IV headed for the theme park, while defensive tackle Star Lotulelei opted to stay in the room and relax.
A day later, however, Lotulelei found himself in the spotlight — joining White and head coach Kyle Whittingham for a bevy of interviews at the conference's annual preseason gathering with the media.
"This is outside of Star's comfort zone, somewhat, but he's doing a great job," Whittingham said. "He's very capable. He's a very good interview and he represents the program very well. It's just that this is not his favorite thing to do."
Lotulelei, he continued, would rather be at home with his wife, his kids and his teammates.
"But he's a team guy and he's here," Whittingham said.
Lotulelei is glad he accepted the coach's invitation to make the trip.
"It's been a real cool experience to be here," said the senior, who joined White in mingling with players from the 11 other teams in the conference. They ate dinner together and even went bowling. Lotulelei and White participated in the latter alongside USC stars Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald.
"We were having fun," White said. "It was real fun."
Both Utes acknowledged that Barkley is a pretty funny guy. Lotulelei said the players didn't discuss football.
This was about getting away from the game for a while.
"On the field it's a whole different story," Lotulelei explained. "But off the field everybody I've met over here, they're just great guys. They're really relaxed and real kick back. It was real nice to meet all of them."
White agreed, calling it a great opportunity and honor to participate in Pac-12 Media Day and represent the Utes.
THE DECISION: Lotulelei's decision to return for his senior season instead of opting for the NFL was a popular topic of discussion.
"I'm happy with the decision I made. I don't regret anything," Lotulelei said while explaining that his spring and summer workouts have gone well. "I think it was a great decision for me and my family."
The decision to finish his education and improve his football skills, however, does come with a risk. Lotulelei, however, insists its just part of playing football.
"There's always a risk of getting hurt," he said. "That's just a risk that I'm taking."
Lotulelei, though, is confident its something he'll get through if he continues to work hard in the offseason. Even so, Lotulelei acknowledged he's also looking into getting an insurance policy as a safeguard.
PENN STATE AFTERMATH: Whittingham didn't mince words when asked about the Penn State scandal — football is secondary to the children harmed by the vile acts of former Nittany Lions assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
"It's tragic. You just feel for the victims. That's what it's all about," Whittingham said. "It's not about the sanctions or any of that stuff. It's about the victims and that breaks your heart."
The NCAA sanctions, though, has opened up the recruitment of Penn State players and Whittingham acknowledged that Utah is looking into it.
"Obviously we didn't recruit many of those guys at all coming out of high school. Most of those guys are East Coast guys," Whittingham said. "But we're taking a look at it. We're working on it as we speak, but whether we end up going on any of those guys or not remains to be seen."
FULL SUPPORT: Whittingham backs sophomore Harvey Langi's decision to serve an LDS Church mission and put his college football career on hold for two years.
"We support that 100 percent. I was proud of Harvey for making that decision and making that commitment. That's not unfamiliar to our program. We have 42 returned missionaries in the program," Whittingham said. "Any time one of our athletes decides that serving a mission is what he wants to do, we're behind him 100 percent regardless of circumstances."
Fortunately for the Utes, however, the situation is actually quite good. They have good depth with White and junior college transfer Kelvin York headlining a running back cast that includes youngsters Jarrell Oliver and Lucky Radley.
ALL IS WELL: Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Pac-12 Enterprises boss Gary Stevenson opened the Media Day event by expressing excitement over the conference's new networks, which will be launched Aug. 15.
Scott called it "a major innovation" and "a new and exciting development in the world of college sports."
The Pac-12 is also launching a digital network with multi-platforms for multi-devices.
"I must tell you that our over-100 employees are raring to get started," Stevenson said.
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