NEW YORK CITY — Star Lotulelei is on his way to Charlotte, N.C., and without a doubt, Panther fans are curious to know what sort of prospect their team picked up with the 14th pick in this year's NFL draft.
Lotulelei came into the draft as one of the mostly highly touted talents in the nation, and rightfully so. During a three-year, 38-game run playing for the University of Utah, the All-America lineman tallied 107 tackles, seven sacks, five fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles. Twenty-eight of those games were starts.
Lotulelei impressed at the University of Utah's pro day. He is very strong; he benched 225 lbs. 38 times, tying Margus Hunt, a strong draft prospect in his own right.
What Utahns have seen over the last three years on the defensive line has been nothing short of spectacular. His presence has commanded double- and triple-teams in the trenches since the first down he took as a Ute, particularly against Utah's arch-rival BYU.
Start Lotulelei had been doing what Ezekeil "Ziggy" Ansah — drafted at No. 5 by the Detroit Lions — was doing for two years before Ansah saw significant playing time. He mowed offensive linemen over. He created havoc in the backfield. He commanded respect, both in the Mountain West and in the Pac-12. During Star's three years in Utah crimson, the Utes never lost to BYU, a point of personal pride every graduating Ute carries this year.
Lotulelei is a crazy fast defensive tackle and is extremely adept at wreaking destruction on the line of scrimmage. Lotulelei is exactly the kind of player around which a defense can be built to spearhead a first class rush defense.
Doubtlessly, Panther fans have heard of Lotulelei's heart (non-)condition; he was diagnosed with heart problems immediately before the draft, which of course caused his draft prospects to suffer. Specifically, during an echocardiogram, it was discovered that Lotulelei had a low ejection fraction; his left ventricle was only opperating at 44 percent efficiency, well below the normal range of 55-70 percent.
Following several examinations in Salt Lake City, Lotulelei was cleared to play professional sports by a number of teams, somewhat allaying concerns about his health around the NFL. Panther fans shouldn't place much stock in those concerns. Every heart exam since has shown his heart is in good health. The Panthers wouldn't have selected him had there been serious concerns about his durability.
Lotulelei is, at his core, a great person. Rather than travel to New York to be surrounded by all the lights, media and attention, he decided to stay at home. In fact, he found out he'd be playing for the Panthers at his house in South Jordan, Utah, surrounded by family and friends.7 comments on this story
To those that know him, Star's decision was not much of a surprise. Lotulelei is a humble player who's not fond of the limelight. In 2012, he declined to participate in a newspaper photo shoot unless all the defensive players would be pictured, not just himself and the other starters.
Lotulelei could have easily been drafted in the first round last year. In fact, many would argue he could have been drafted higher in the 2012 draft had he decided to not return to school. But that's not the kind of person Lotulelei is. He decided to return to Utah in 2013 in order to finish what he started, namely, to get a degree and finish his education — a rarity in today's celebrity football culture.
Lotulelei has the rare combination of insane athletic ability and admirable humility that will turn him into a great role model. Carolina is lucky to have seen Lotulelei slip to them at 14, and Lotulelei will have an immediate impact Lotulelei has on the Panthers this season.
Spencer Durrant writes about the NBA and the NFL. Find him on Twitter.com/Spencer_Durrant. Landon Hemsley is sports content manager for DeseretNews.com. Follow him on facebook.com/earlofhemsley and on twitter.com/earlofhemsley.