As the big day approaches, Lotulelei admits he probably won’t sleep at all the night before. He anticipates being real nervous.
“I’m just looking forward to Thursday and looking forward to where me and my family are going to make home for the next couple of years,” Lotulelei said. “That’s probably the most exciting part.”
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The journey, though, hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. An abnormal heart test at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February led to some serious concern about Lotulelei’s future. NFL officials asked him not to participate in the combine until the issue was resolved. His left ventricle was working at just 44 percent efficiency, well below the normal range of 55-70 percent.
“When I got the news it was definitely a shock. But as far as being nervous and not knowing what to expect, I think my family was a lot more nervous than I was,” said Lotulelei, who explained that his body felt fine and he had no symptoms of an abnormality. “So I think it was definitely a bigger deal for my family — especially for my wife and for my parents — just because they didn’t know what was going on and what our future held.
“When we finally got cleared and everything worked out, it was definitely a relief,” he added.
Before Lotulelei passed extensive follow-up tests on his heart — the problem was likely associated with a viral infection from a cold that temporarily altered things — there was time for reflection.
The second opinion Lotulelei received shortly after returning to Utah from Indianapolis indicated something similar, although the condition was improving.
“When they told me that, it was disappointing and it was definitely kind of hard to deal with,” Lotulelei said. “But just having my family there, they’re such a great support system with my parents and my brothers and sisters, my wife and my kids. It definitely made it a lot easier.”
There were mixed emotions at the time. Lotulelei has dreamed of playing in the NFL since he was a little kid and has long planned on it being a way to support his family financially. The thought of it all being taken away didn’t sit well.
“It was definitely a little scary,” Lotulelei explained. “But like I’ve said, I felt pretty confident in my body and the way it was feeling.”
Soon thereafter, Lotulelei received full clearance from Dr. Josef Stehlik of the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. In a report released through Lotulelei’s agent, Bruce Tollner, Stehlik noted that Lotutlelei underwent a treadmill stress test, ambulatory EKG monitoring and heart imaging. Stehlik concluded that Lotulelei had complete normalization of the heart muscle function.
The “thorough and comprehensive” cardiac evaluation led Stehlik to conclude that it was safe for Lotulelei to “participate in professional athletics without restrictions.”
It remains to be seen, however, if the turmoil will have an impact on when Lotulelei will be drafted.
“There’s definitely going to be teams that are still a little standoffish. They don’t want to risk it and I can totally understand that,” Lotulelei said. “But I feel like my game and my playing here at Utah has shown teams enough that they will be confident to take me and take a chance on me. So, as far as everything, I’m cleared and everything’s ready to go.”
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Lotulelei has overcome adversity before. After a stellar career at Bingham High School, he stopped playing football for a year and was moving furniture. He eventually enrolled at Snow College before transferring to Utah for his final three seasons of eligibility.
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