With its long white sandy beaches, warm temperatures, tropical landscape and sparkling blue oceans, it’s hard to beat the Hawaiian island of Maui for a vacation location.
It’s probably the last spot you would head to if you were a college football coach looking for a tough, hard-hitting linebacker, however.
But that’s where UNLV senior John Lotulelei, a second team preseason all-Mountain West pick by Lindy’s Magazine, hails from. The 6-foot, 235-pounder, who was a late addition to the Rebels at the start of fall camp last year after earning all-Golden Gate Conference honors at Merced (Calif.) College, is the team’s top returning tackler (60) despite not taking over starting duties until late in the season.
With a full season and a full spring practice now under his belt, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck thinks enough of Lotulelei that he brought him to represent the defense at the Mountain West Media Days that concluded Wednesday at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
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“He’s poised to have a big year,” Hauck said. “He’s got a strong personality in the locker room. He leads by example.”
Lotulelei is a 2009 graduate of Baldwin High School in Wailuku, Hawaii, not far from the resort beaches of Wailea. He helped lead the Bears to three Maui Interscholastic League championships as a linebacker and fullback and was named the MIL Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Jimmy Morimoto, the Rebels’ director of player personnel who was a longtime coach at Baldwin High and had ties to the Lotulelei family, was instrumental in helping sway the linebacker to UNLV.
Lotulelei delivered several highlight-reel hits during his junior season. He had his best game in UNLV’s 48-21 loss to fifth-ranked Boise State, finishing with a team-best 13 tackles. He’s being counted on to help improve a Rebel defense that ranked 118th in the nation in scoring (40.4 points allowed per game) and 105th in total defense (443.2 yards per game).
“Last year, that’s the past,” Lotulelei said. “It doesn’t really matter. This year is a new program. … I think the defense (will be) improved a lot this year.”
Lotulelei points to the long hours the Rebels have put in the weight room and with conditioning since the end of spring practice as a big reason for the potential improvement. Lotulelei upped his bench press to an impressive 410 pounds and set a team record for his position by cleaning 363 pounds earlier this week.