Kenape Eliapo can reel off a long list of names who have excelled on Utah's defensive line over the years. It's a legacy he's proud to be a part of.
"It's really a good thing to follow the tradition of great players," said Eliapo, a junior in his first season as the Utes' starting nose tackle. "It's a good tradition to keep, so I'm going to get up to their standards and stuff."
Eliapo and senior Greg Newman, who will start at the other tackle spot, are making the move from part-time to full-time starters this fall.
"I think they're coming along. We're going to be tested in the run game, period, and we are going to have to stop the run. I know that. They know that. Everybody's going to say 'Can they stop the run with those guys inside?' And I believe we can," defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said.
"Last year we were able to do it with two undersized tackles against UCLA. We'll have our challenges in front of us, but those kids have progressed very, very well."
Though they're a bit small by defensive tackle standards, Eliapo and Newman aren't exactly little. Eliapo is 6-feet tall and weighs 303 pounds. Newman is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds.
The duo have worked hard to become quicker and more powerful.
And that's not all.
"We have great chemistry," Newman said. "We were on the scout team together when I first got here. We've grown up with this program and it's worked out real well."
So well, in fact, that both players held onto their starting positions during a competitive fall camp. Sophomore Lei Talamaivao and senior Aaron Tonga, who is recovering from an MCL strain, are projected to be the other two tackles in Utah's main rotation. They're be joined on the line by highly touted ends Paul Kruger and Koa Misi.
"We're going to come with it," Eliapo said. "I'm not going to say too much, you know, we'll let you judge that."
Utah's defensive line is traditionally strong and provided enough pressure on opponents last year to help the Utes lead the nation in pass efficiency defense.
More of the same is expected with a veteran secondary returning and a successful reloading up front.
"We're going to be great. I cannot wait," Newman said. "We're going to rock people this year. No doubt about it."
Newman, who transferred to Utah from Colorado in 2005, is really eager to play this season. He was stabbed in the back with a screwdriver by unknown assailiants last winter in an attack that also injured teammates Paul and David Kruger.
"I was out for three or four weeks after that because I had some internal bleeding and stuff," Newman said. "It really made me focus on just getting better, getting healthy and just working my butt off getting prepared as I could be for this year. Because I want to make the most of it."
The assault has put things in perspective for Newman.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to be out here playing," he said. "It's full-go and I really appreciate all that I'm able to do."
For the most part, Newman explained, he's 100 percent and will be great for games with no problems."I really want to play," he said.
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