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October 24, 2013Senior defensive tackle LT Tuipulotu came to the Utes with high expectations. While the talent was there, Tuipulotu struggled through injuries, and had a rough time adjusting to college football. However, the senior is having a breakout year for the Utes, as he is an important anchor in what may be the toughest defensive front in the Pac-12.
For Utah defensive line coach Ilaisa Tuiaki, it is better late than never as Tuipulotu transformed himself into to a key fixture in the starting lineup. "It's been very pleasant for him to come along. I mean, it was never a lack of care factor for him, it had just never clicked for some reason," said Tuiaki.
Tuipulotu has gone from collecting eight total tackles in his sophomore and junior years to 23 tackles, one TFL, one forced fumble, and .5 sacks so far in seven games as a senior. According to Tuipulotu, the credit goes to Tuiaki who spent time with him on the basic fundamentals of playing defensive tackle.
"(Coach Tuiaki) obviously understands and knows what to teach us and understands the kind of athletes and player each one of us are," claimed Tuipulotu. "So far it's been great and I mean it. I love that he teaches us the all the technique, the hands (placement), and the drills in practice. It all carries on (for me) out on the field."
Tuiaki gives credit to his late-bloomer, who has become a student of the game. "I think he's just done a good job of paying attention," said Tuiaki. "When we first started working together in the spring there was a lot of freelancing, a lot of things that you think in your head will work right before the snap, and then you do it and it doesn't. He freelanced a little bit too much and just kind of getting reeled into the basics and fundamentals is really what helped him. He's bought in and I thought he's done a great job ever since we started working together."
Despite his newfound success, all Tuipulotu wants to talk about is his team. "With three losses it's disappointing," he said. "You know, my goal was to try anything that I can do to help our team win. That was my main goal and as far as personal, I think I'm doing good, not great. I'm trying my best to be the best out there and there are a lot of things I can improve on."
After sending two defensive tackles to the NFL last year and losing a possible starter Stevie Tu'ikolovatu) to a season ending injury, the defense needed someone to step up and that is exactly what Tuipulotu has done, but there are still a lot of games ahead.
"Individually-he's a team guy, he's such a great kid when it comes down to that, but I just want to see him continue to improve," said Tuiaki. "He and some of the d-linemen are different in some ways, I don't think he's athletic as Tenny is, but to contribute in a way that he's contributing to the team somehow and I think that he's doing a good job with the run game. He's solid and just to continue to contribute in that way would be huge for me to see him do that for the rest of the year."
After he graduates, Tuipulotu has plans to become a police officer, but he acknowledges that a shot at the next level would be nice. Until then he has one goal in mind.
"My personal goal is to go to a bowl game," he said. "That's my main goal right is to take our team to a bowl game and help us win it. I'm trying to play great and get better every play and every time we practice."
Tuipulotu's impact has been a long time coming, but all it took was a detail-oriented coach to unlock his potential.
"I'm glad that he's playing well now and (I) just keep bringing him along," said Tuiaki. "He's been a good guy in the group, a good leader as well. He speaks up and it's been good to have him come along and be a good factor (for us)."