Utah football: Lowell Lotulelei looks to cement his own legacy in his senior season

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei takes part in wind sprints at the end of Utah football practice, on Aug. 15.

Lowell Lotulelei joined the Utah football program known as Star’s little brother. As he enters his senior season, he’s established himself as a big brother to a lot of his teammates.

The 6-foot-2, 320-pound senior defensive tackle from South Jordan has the build of an on-field bully and the demeanor of a teddy bear off the field, particularly when he lets out his deep and disarming chuckle, teeth emerging from a dark, thick beard.

He followed in enormous footsteps when he signed to play defensive tackle for the Utes — the same position where his older brother, Star, dominated on his way to being selected 14th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Today, Lotulelei’s teammates measure themselves against him. Lotulelei projects as a starter at defensive tackle for the fourth consecutive season. A three-time All-Pac-12 honoree, he has only missed one game in his collegiate career.

About Lowell LotuleleiHeight: 6-foot-2 Weight: 320Class: SeniorAge: 22Position: Defensive tackleOne last time: The South Jordan resident and Bingham High graduate had a standout high school career. He was rated the No. 2 prospect in the state by 247Sports as well as a Salt Lake Tribune second-team 5A All-State selection as a senior. … He has been a three-year starter and three-year all-conference honoree who made both the USA Today and Scout.com Freshman All-American teams in 2014. … A first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2015, he was an honorable mention selection in 2014 and 2016.

Despite a shoulder injury last season, Lotulelei only missed one game — a loss at California. He recorded more tackles (28), tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (3.5) than his sophomore season, while attracting constant double-teams.

“He fought through that, and it was tough to play a whole year with a bad shoulder and kind of favoring it the whole season — but he also still played really well,”Utes defensive line coach Lewis Powell said. “He’s going into this year with a chip on his shoulder knowing that it’s his last go-around and he wants to do something that’s never been done here — you know, go to a championship game and win.”

While his performance speaks for itself, the coaching staff has asked Lotulelei, 22, to do more speaking. He’s embraced that challenge of being more vocal, particularly among a defensive line that entered preseason camp with more underclassmen on the two-deep depth chart (four) than seniors (three). Whether in drills or watching film, Powell said Lotulelei has made coaching the group easier because he can point to Lotulelei and say, “Young guys, this is how you do it.”

Regardless of the accolades Lotulelei has accumulated — Sports Illustrated projected him as a potential first-round draft pick last season — he approaches each day as though he’s got to prove himself. That mentality has been molded in part through the years of daily battles with former Utes offensive linemen and NFL draft picks J.J. Dielman and Isaac Asiata in practice.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei (93) sacks Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert (10) as Utah hosts Oregon, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Saturday November 19, 2016.

“He just wants me to be the best I can be, so he don’t hold back,”Lotulelei said of Star. “When he watches my games and stuff if he sees something he didn’t like, he’ll tell me. He don’t just try to tell me good game and whatever. That’s just how he is.”

Star watches all of Utah’s games. If he isn’t able to watch the game live because of his own NFL schedule, his wife will DVR it for him. If Star watches the game live and has any notes, Lotulelei will know by the time he gets to his locker after coming off the field.

“He wants to be better and bigger, and he wants to be his own guy — not just ‘This is Star’s brother,’” Powell said. “That’s his attitude since I’ve been here and since he’s been here. It feels like he wants to go out as ‘I’m not Star’s little brother, I’m Lowell Lotulelei.’”

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