By Jim Moore
RENTON – We all had our favorites from the Seahawks’ first preseason game last Thursday night.
Maybe you liked Tarvaris Jackson after he went 8 for 9 with two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 QB rating. Or Stephen Williams, the receiver he hooked up with on two long passes. Or maybe it was Christine Michael after the rookie rushed for 89 yards on 16 carries. You could have also latched onto Benson Mayowa after the undrafted free agent from Idaho registered two third-quarter sacks.
Then again, you might have been most impressed by the player that I couldn’t take my eyes off of: John Lotulelei, an undrafted linebacker from UNLV. Lotulelei had three tackles, including one for loss, and generally speaking, he just seemed to be everywhere on the field.
On Sunday, as the Seahawks returned to practice, I wanted to find out more about him.
Rookie linebacker John Lotulelei is trying to make the Seahawks’ roster as an undrafted free agent. “I feel like I have to do more to earn respect,” he says. (AP)
During the telecast of the game, you couldn’t miss him because of a style of play that borders on reckless abandon. Then there’s the hair, streaming out of the back of his helmet, a la Troy Polamalu.
“He’s definitely someone I look up to as a Polynesian football player in the NFL,” Lotulelei said of the Steelers safety.
During the 7-minute interview, I probably spent more time asking about his hair than anything else. The last time Lotulelei got a haircut was December of 2009. And he doesn’t plan to cut it anytime soon.
“I’m going to grow it until my football career’s over,” he said. “I couldn’t grow my hair in high school, so once I got to college, I just let it go. My parents weren’t there to tell me to cut it off. My hair’s been with me from junior college to UNLV. It’s been with me through the struggles of trying to go different places.”
His younger brother Tau is still playing at UNLV and swears he’s the fastest Lotulelei.
“I’m faster than you,” Tau tells John. “The only reason you look faster is because of your hair.”
The Seahawks probably knew about him before the combine after Lotulelei made 120 tackles his senior season, including five against the Cougs with an interception in Washington State’s 35-27 win last year.
At the combine, Lotulelei posted the second-fastest time in the lateral-agility drill and ran a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. The Seahawks must have also noticed arms to match the hair – as in long – and hands the size of Russell Wilson’s.
They had him graded out as a fifth-rounder but didn’t pick him at all. Coach Pete Carroll called him during the draft, though, indicating that the Seahawks still wanted him. Lotulelei said it came down to the Redskins and Seahawks, and he went with Seattle after getting a $25,000 signing bonus, the most given to an undrafted free agent this year.
Lotulelei grew up in Kihei, Maui, and as you might expect, he enjoys diving at Makena and body-boarding wherever the surf’s up.
He is one of 10 children. Lotulelei, 21, has six sisters and three brothers, ranging in age from 34 to 13. He also has a dog named Rasta, a 9-year-old Shar Pei mix.
“I got beaten up by the older ones and got the lectures, too,” Lotulelei said of life as one of the middle-aged siblings. “But you’ve got a lot of love in a big family.”
At meal time, it sounds like it was a race to the dinner table.
“Whoever gets served first gets to eat,” he said.
Whether he’s a big brother or little brother, they’re all pulling for him to make the final roster in Seattle.
“They’re behind me, encouraging me, they keep driving me,” Lotulelei said. “They tell me to keep going forward and not let anyone tell me what I can’t do.”
Lotulelei is motivated by being undrafted, saying: “I feel like I have to do more to earn respect. I’m just trying to earn a spot by showing the coaches I can ball.”
The Go 2 Guy also writes for his website, jimmoorethego2guy.com, and every Monday for kitsapsun.com. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.