Star Lotulelei: 'Getting married ... was something that helped me become grounded'

By Steve Reed

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 27 2013 4:53 p.m. MDT

Carolina Panthers first-round NFL football draft choice Star Lotulelei speaks during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, April 26, 2013.

Chuck Burton, Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After a year of moving heavy furniture into cabins in Utah, Star Lotulelei realized the working man's 9-to-5 life simply wasn't for him.

Lotulelei knew right then he needed to make his NFL dream happen — no matter what the cost.

And he did just that.

The defensive tackle was selected 14th overall in the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.

"I learned that football is what I was made for and football is what I need to be doing," Lotulelei said during an introductory press conference in Charlotte. "That's what that year off taught me. I needed to be playing football and it was definitely a hard lesson learned."

Lotulelei took a road less travelled to the NFL.

A native of Tonga, he moved to America when he was 9 years old and didn't begin playing football until he was a high school freshman. He said he didn't understand the game at the time, but caught on quickly.

It didn't take long for him — as well as college scouts — to recognize he was a natural defensive tackle.

A member of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Lotulelei committed to play at his favorite school, BYU, in 2006.

However, he didn't have the grades to get in.

It was a huge road block standing in the way of his dream of playing in the NFL. He spent the next year out of football altogether, moving heavy wooden king size beds, dining room tables and entertainment centers for a moving company in Utah.

He hated the job.

Lotulelei enrolled at Snow College, a two-year school in Utah, where he'd play one season before transferring to Utah.

But Snow would forever impact his life. That's where he met his wife, Fuiva, and a short time later she would give birth to the first of their two daughters.

It changed his life.

"Getting married and having my first child was something that helped me become grounded," Lotulelei said. "It helped me to focus, kind of settle down and figure out what I wanted to do with my life and where we needed to go. I think that is what has gotten me to where I am today.

"I think having a family of my own, wife and kids, it helps out in that area of being a little more mature than some other guys."

While other football players spent time partying and hanging out with friends, Lotulelei said he'd return to his off-campus home 30 minutes away to spend time with his daughters, Arilani, 3, and Pesatina, 1, and focus on his academics.

"He just likes to relax and be with the kids," said Fuiva, who also is a native of Tonga and a former volleyball player at Snow. "When football's done, he's usually at home. He's pretty good about that."

Once at Utah, there were other obstacles to overcome.

Lotulelei redshirted in 2009 so he could work on his academics and get his weight under control after ballooning to 350 pounds while at Snow.

But after one season, his talent began to show through.

He was voted the Utes' co-captain entering his junior season and went on to earn first team All-Pac 12 in 2011 and win the Morris Trophy given to the conference's top defensive lineman.

He closed out a memorable season by earning Defensive MVP honors in Utah's 30-27 win over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

He could have turned pro.

Instead, with a second child on the way, Lotulelei decided to complete his degree in sociology and spend another season getting mentally and physically prepared to play at the next level.

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