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Mormons in the NFL in 2013: How they got here and how they are doing

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 25 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

Carolina Panthers Star Lotulelei (98) grabs Buffalo Bills C.J. Spiller (28) while fending off a block from Colin Brown (74) during a 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills in an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Bill Wippert, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Among the 28 Latter-day Saints who entered the 2013 season on NFL rosters, two rookies are so far justifying their status as first-round draft picks.

When Star Lotulelei was at the NFL combine last February, doctors reported he had a heart condition that prevented him from working out for NFL scouts and coaches. This raised concerns and the massive lineman from the University of Utah eventually fell to a middle first-round pick.

But Lotulelei has not disappointed the Panthers three games into the season. Thus far he has registered nine tackles, a sack and been a disruptive force for opponents, wrote ESPN insider Kevin Weidl.

"Lotulelei has been stout defending the run and has created disruption in the backfield while also showing impressive range," Weidl wrote.

In the article, Lotulelei is compared to another Latter-day Saint lineman — Baltimore's Haloti Ngata.

"Ngata was bigger and was about 25 pounds heavier coming out than Lotulelei. He also had exceptional athleticism," Weidl wrote. "Lotulelei does not have the same type of athleticism, versatility and has a long way to go to even be considered in the same conversation as Ngata. ... However, they shared a lot of similarities coming out of school."

Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the draft out of BYU, is also turning heads in his rookie campaign. He has recorded 11 tackles — the most among Detroit defensive linemen — and a team-high 2.5 sacks, not to mention a handful of quarterback hits. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive lineman from Ghana credits teammates Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley for his early success. He has impressed Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, according to the Detroitnews.com.

“He makes plays whenever he goes in the game,” Schwartz told writer John Niyo. “I mean, he learns something new every week. He practices well. His technique continues to improve. But he just has that knack for being able to make a play on the field.”

Add Paul Kruger to the list of Mormons playing on the defensive line for NFL teams. In an article posted on BaltimoreRavens.com, Kruger talked about returning to Baltimore — the team he just helped to win the Super Bowl — but now as a member of the Cleveland Browns.

“I was (in Baltimore) for four years and have so many friends and people over there that I still talk to,” Kruger said in the article. “But I’ve made this place a new home and (I’m) really loving it here. I’m really excited about what we have going on.”

After helping Baltimore to win Super Bowl XLVII, Kruger signed a five-year, $41 million deal with the Browns.

“It went smooth and I’m real happy with the outcome,” Kruger told BaltimoreRavens.com. “There’s no looking back.”

Tevita Stevens signed as an undrafted free agent with the Washington Redskins after starting on Utah's offensive line for four years. Currently, the 6-3, 300-pound offensive lineman is on Washington's practice squad.

Stevens was recently featured in a lengthy blog post by Brian Skinnell. In the article he tells about his athletic family, serving a Spanish-speaking mission to New York and his playing days at the University of Utah.

As the center, Stevens said he lined up each day against future Carolina first-round draft pick Lotulelei, which was hard but made him a better player.

"Star and I went against each other every day in practice and he is definitely the best defensive lineman I have ever gone against," Stevens told Skinnell. "He was definitely worth the first-round selection. Going against him made me such a better player in many different ways."

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