Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has received a lot of mention on the radio airwaves and the message boards since the NFL draft concluded. Most analysts project him as a first-round pick and as the top defensive tackle prospect for the 2013 draft.
Obviously such projections are fluid at this early stage, but regardless, it’s safe to say that Lotulelei is someone any coach would love to have anchoring their defensive front — including BYU.
Those who follow BYU recruiting closely remember that BYU not only committed the former Bingham Miner, but signed him back in 2007.
So what happened?
Consider the following list of players signed by Bronco Mendenhall: Scotty Ebert, Seta Pohahau, Atem Bol, Jordan Afo, and Star Lotulelei.
All five of them failed to qualify academically after signing with BYU out of high school and went the junior college route. BYU didn’t re-offer any of the five prospects although they may yet offer Afo, who entered Snow’s football program in 2010.
All of those listed didn’t resurface on the recruiting scene out of junior college, save Lotulelei, who surfaced in a big way. Many programs showed interest in Lotulelei out JC, but BYU chose to stay on the sidelines — showing almost no interest while not re-extending an offer.
So why not?
BYU didn’t have a pressing need for immediate defensive line help back in 2010, when Lotulelei signed with the Utes, but that was only part of the reason for not pursuing the mammoth DT prospect. The bigger reason likely was its recent experience with its own JC transfer linemen — Bernard Afutiti and Jesse Taufi.
Most BYU fans aren’t familiar with those two names, but they should have been. Afutiti and Taufi both signed with BYU in 2008 and went on to prove to be two of the better line performers I’ve seen since first covering BYU practices back in 2003.
Both of them flamed out in the classroom and never played a down for the team while taking up valuable scholarship spots. BYU coaches were likely heartbroken to see two extremely talented players not see the field due to not hacking it academically and were subsequently hesitant to pursue Lotulelei, as a result.
I was told by a BYU assistant that they did not pursue Lotulelei due to existing academic concerns.
It’s impossible to say definitively if BYU would have been able to sign Lotulelei even if they had pursued him. Ardent Cougar fans will argue that BYU could have had him if they wanted him while Ute fans will argue that BYU didn’t have a chance regardless.
After he committed to Utah Lotulelei stated that he didn’t care that BYU didn’t offer since he liked Utah better anyway, but those feelings often come about after a recruit feels spurned by a particular program. What we do know is that Lotulelei once had BYU as his top school, signing with it out of High School, and perhaps would have had it on top again had BYU coaches pursued him out of junior college.
Since signing with Utah Lotulelei has not only seen tremendous success on the field, but in the classroom as reported by Dirk Facer here.
So could BYU have used Lotulelei this coming season? Who couldn’t use the top-rated defensive tackle in the country is the short answer. Specifically to BYU, it looks to be in good shape with returning three-year starters Ian Dulan, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Romney Fuga and Russell Tialavea, but as good as each of them are, Lotulelei is in a class by himself.
No school has a perfect recruiting record and it’s likely if BYU had the opportunity to recruit Lotulelei again that it would do so. As evidenced by it offering Tenny Palepoi, who was a non-qualifier out of high school, this past year, BYU may be more willing to take some academic risks moving forward.