(Star) is a big reason why we've been pretty good on defense the last few years, and we're going to miss him. We're really going to miss him. —Utah Utes coach Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most prominent and dominant players in University of Utah football history will play his last game for the Utes Friday at Colorado. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, is among 25 seniors on the team concluding their collegiate careers at Folsom Field in Boulder.
Players like Lotulelei, acknowledged Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, don't come around very often.
"No they don't. I guess the last one was Luther Elliss as far as that first-round caliber of defensive linemen. They're so valuable at what you're doing," Whittingham said. "(Star) is a big reason why we've been pretty good on defense the last few years, and we're going to miss him. We're really going to miss him."
Lotulelei leads the Pac-12 and ranks second nationally with four fumble recoveries this season. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound lineman tops the Utes with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. He also has three forced fumbles and an equal number of pass breakups.
"Every scout I have talked to says he has helped his draft status immensely," Whittingham said. "I know the season didn't go like anybody wanted it to, but as far as helping himself individually and his stock rising, I have heard nothing but that from the scouts."
Citing a desire to graduate from school and improve his skills, Lotulelei opted to put a sure-fire NFL career on hold and return to the Utes.
It's a decision he doesn't regret, even though it'll end with Utah sporting its first losing record since 2002.
"It's definitely disappointing, definitely not the way we pictured our season to go this year," Lotulelei said. "But we've got one more game. That's what we're working on. That's what we're working for."
Lotulelei, a two-time team captain, is determined to finish his Utah career on a high note.
"We've got to go out there and execute," he said. "I think our coaches have a good game plan going in for us, and that's where all our focus is."
Despite all the ups and downs associated with a 4-7 season, Lotulelei insists he's had a lot of fun.
"It was great playing for these coaches again, being a part of this team, being with all my teammates, so definitely no regrets," Lotulelei said. "There's highs and lows, but definitely no regrets."
Lotulelei added that progress has been made on a majority of the development he wanted to make this season. Even so, he's not satisfied — noting there's still a lot of room for improvement as far as technique and such.
When the season is complete, Lotulelei's focus will shift to the NFL. Although he's already received a couple of invitations to postseason all-star games, the former Bingham High standout isn't sure about accepting any of them.
"I'm going to try to let my body rest up. It's been kind of a long season, so I'll see how that goes," Lotulelei said. "As of right now, I don't think I'll be participating in any, but we'll see how my body feels — where everything stands."
Lotulelei noted that he's not a big fan of traveling and hopes to prepare for the NFL combine and "Pro Day" by training in Utah.