Star Lotulelei

Tongan player of American football (born 1989)

American football player
  • Snow (2008)
  • Utah (2010–2012)
NFL draft:2013 / Round: 1 / Pick: 14Career history
  • Carolina Panthers (2013–2017)
  • Buffalo Bills (2018–2021)
Career highlights and awards Career NFL statistics
Total tackles:194
Forced fumbles:2
Fumble recoveries:2
Pass deflections:7
Player stats at · PFR

Starlite Lotulelei Jr. (/ˌltʊˈlɛl/ LOH-tuu-LEL-ay; born 20 December 1989) is a Tongan former professional American football defensive tackle. He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He played college football at University of Utah, and shared the Morris Trophy for the best lineman in the Pac-12 Conference.[1]

High school and junior college career

A native of Tonga, Lotulelei attended Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah. Playing defensive lineman at 240 pounds, he helped the football team to a 14–0 record and a state title in 2006. Lotulelei registered 72 tackles and seven sacks as a senior.

US college sports recruiting information for high school athletes
Name Hometown High school / college Height Weight Commit date
Star Lotulelei
South Jordan, Utah Bingham 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) 245 lb (111 kg)  
Recruiting star ratings: Scout:3/5 stars   Rivals:3/5 stars   247Sports:3/5 stars    ESPN grade: 67

Regarded as a three-star recruit by, Lotulelei was listed as the No. 3 overall prospect from Utah.[2] However, he was overshadowed by Oregon-bound Simione Fili of Cottonwood High School, who was labeled the best defensive lineman from Utah since Haloti Ngata,[3] but eventually bounced around between junior colleges before falling into obscurity and finally becoming a strongman competitor.[4][5] Lotulelei, too, failed to qualify academically for his original school of choice, Brigham Young University. He eventually spent what would have been his freshman season delivering furniture for a store in Salt Lake City.[4] After a year, he enrolled at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah.[6] Now far over 300 pounds, Lotulelei played defensive line for the Badgers alongside James Aiono, and recorded 52 tackles with 14 TFL, three sacks and one forced fumble in 2008. Snow College reached the 2008 NJCAA National Championship Game, but lost 37–30 in double-overtime to Butler Community College.[7]

Lotulelei took the 2009 season off to preserve another year of college eligibility. He was still recruited by BYU, but also Oregon State, Utah State, and Utah. "The Utah coaches came down to Snow a couple of times," Lotulelei said. "They showed me they really wanted me. It showed me they really cared. So coming here wasn't that hard of a choice."[6]

College career

In 2010, Lotulelei transferred to the University of Utah, and played in all 13 games for the Utah Utes football team, and became a starter for the final three games of the season. He totaled 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss, and also was credited for a half quarterback sack, which came against San Jose State in arguably his best game of the season (season-high five tackles). Lotulelei also made several appearances at offensive guard.

A regular starter in 2011, Lotulelei was an All-Pac-12 Conference performer and won the Morris Trophy as the league's best defensive lineman. He started all 13 games, and registered 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one pass breakup, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. His 9.0 tackles for loss tied sophomore linebacker Trevor Reilly for second on the team. In a 14–31 loss against Washington, Lotulelei had six tackles including 2.5 tackles for a loss. A week later he had five tackles in a 14–35 loss against Arizona State. Against California, Lotulelei surprised with a 17-yard reception on a fake punt play. Utah finished the regular season 7–5 and played Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. Lotulelei made six tackles and recovered a fumble and was awarded the Jimmy Rogers, Jr. Trophy for the Most Valuable Lineman.[8]

Lotulelei returned to the University of Utah for his senior year, and started in all 12 games at nose tackle. He recorded 42 tackles included a team-high 11 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks, while also having four pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. A season-high seven tackles plus two pass breakup came early in the season in a 24–21 win against the school to which he had previously committed, Brigham Young. Lotulelei blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt with 1 second remaining following a third-down incompletion.[9] Two weeks later, Lotulelei had a heralded performance against All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes of the USC Trojans in a 28–38 loss for the Utes.[10]

Professional career

2013 NFL Draft

Forgoing the chance of a professional career in 2012, Lotulelei decided to return to Utah after the 2011 season. In preseason mock drafts from May 2012, Lotulelei was listed as a late first-rounder for the 2013 NFL Draft as well.[11] By mid-season, he had moved up to a top-3 spot.[12] After the season concluded, Lotulelei was still projected to be picked among the first five selections.[13][14] Utah had not seen one of their defensive linemen selected in the first round since Luther Elliss went 20th overall to the Detroit Lions in 1995. Lotulelei's rare combination of power, snap count anticipation, instincts, quickness, and athleticism frequently drew parallels to Haloti Ngata.[15]

Pre-draft measurables
Height Weight Arm length Hand span 40-yard dash 10-yard split 20-yard split 20-yard shuttle Three-cone drill Vertical jump Broad jump Bench press
6 ft 2+12 in
(1.89 m)
311 lb
(141 kg)
33+58 in
(0.85 m)
9+34 in
(0.25 m)
5.31 s 1.89 s 3.12 s 4.65 s 7.76 s 30 in
(0.76 m)
8 ft 9 in
(2.67 m)
38 reps
All values from Utah Pro Day (20 March 2013),[16] except for measurements, which are from NFL Combine[17]

Lotulelei was declared ineligible to participate in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine after an echocardiogram revealed an abnormally low ejection fraction.[18][19] While a normal heart will pump between 55 and 70 percent of the blood out of the left ventricle of the heart and into the body, Lotulelei's left ventricle was found to be pumping at only 44 percent.[19] After further tests by cardiologists at the University of Utah, Lotulelei's condition found to be caused by a viral infection and eventually disappeared, showing "complete normalization of the heart muscle function". Lotulelei has been cleared "to participate in professional athletics without restrictions".[20]

A month after the combine, Lotulelei worked out in front of NFL personnel at Utah's Pro Day. He reportedly "looked strong in all the position drills", and registered 38 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press,[21] which would have tied him with Margus Hunt and Brandon Williams for the top mark at the combine.[22] But despite being medically cleared, Lotulelei's falsely assumed heart condition tarnished his draft prospects.[23] Early April mock drafts projected him to fall out of the top-10.[24][25] However, Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd were "generally viewed as the top two [defensive tackles] in this class."[26] Only a week before the draft, Lotulelei moved up to the No. 4 spot, right behind Floyd, in Sports Illustrated's' mock draft.[27]

Carolina Panthers

Lotulelei was drafted in the first round, 14th overall by the Carolina Panthers, as the second defensive tackle selected after Sheldon Richardson.[28]

2013: Rookie year

Lotulelei playing for the Carolina Panthers in 2013.

On 22 May 2013, Lotulelei signed a four-year $9.60 million deal.[29] He was named the starting defensive tackle in the 2013 season. On 3 September 2013, Lotulelei changed his jersey number from 96, to 98. He had his first NFL career sack against the New York Giants.[30] In his rookie year, Lotulelei started all 16 regular games for the Panthers, recording 42 tackles, three sacks and 23 quarterback pressures.[31] He finished second in the NFL in run stop percentage among defensive tackles at 12.9%, was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 6th best defensive tackle against the run, and helped Carolina improve from 14th in the NFL in run defense in 2012 (110.1 yards per game) to second (86.9 yards per game) in 2013.[32][33] The Panthers finished first in the NFL with 60 sacks in 2013, second in points per game, and third in DVOA team defense. He was named to the All-Rookie teams by ESPN, ProFootballFocus, and SB Nation[34][35] Lotulelei finished 4th in AP Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.[36]

2014 season

Lotulelei picked up from his strong rookie performance in his debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he recorded 1 quarterback hit, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 tackle. Through the first week of the season, Lotulelei ranked among the top 10 defensive tackles in the NFL in pass rush productivity.[37] During the final, win-or-go victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the final game of the regular season that catapulted the Panthers to back-to-back NFC South division titles, Lotulelei finished the afternoon with 2 sacks, 1 quarterback hit, 3 hurries during his pash rush opportunities on Matt Ryan while recording 4 stops on only 9 snaps against the run.[38] For the season, Lotulelei recorded 21 defensive stops.[39] In his first two NFL seasons, Lotulelei registered 46 run stops and 40 quarterback pressures. [40]

2015 season

Lotulelei's 2015 preseason was cut short by a stress reaction in his surgically repaired right foot and it further caused him to miss the first 2 games of the NFL season during which the Panthers were able to produce victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.[40] During the Panthers week 4 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lotulelei recorded a key fumble recovery that led to points that gave the Panthers the lead in the game.[41] Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Lotulelei recorded 6 quarterback pressures. During the Panthers 37–29 victory over the Green Bay Packers that helped the Panthers move to 8–0 in the first time in franchise history, Lotulelei recorded his first sack of the season against quarterback Aaron Rodgers.[42] Lotulelei had 22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 passes defensed on the season. The Panthers finished with a franchise best 15–1 record and went on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. On 7 February 2016, Lotulelei was part of the Panthers team that played in Super Bowl 50. In the game, the Panthers fell to the Denver Broncos by a score of 24–10.[43] In the Super Bowl loss, he recorded five tackles.[44]

2016 season

On 26 April 2016, the Panthers picked up the fifth-year option of Lotulelei's contract.[45]

2017 season

On 10 September 2017, in the season opening 23–3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Lotulelei's teammate Wes Horton sacked quarterback Brian Hoyer and forced a fumble. Lotulelei recovered the fumble and set the Panthers up for an eventual touchdown scoring drive.[46] In the 2017 season, he started all 16 games and recorded 1.5 sacks, 25 total tackles, three tackles-for-loss, five quarterback hits, one pass defensed, and one fumble recovery.[47]

Buffalo Bills

On 13 March 2018, Lotulelei agreed to a five-year deal worth $50 million with the Buffalo Bills. The deal was finalized the next day, on 14 March.[48][49] The signing reunited Lotulelei with Buffalo Bills' head coach Sean McDermott, who was previously the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.

Lotulelei was used mostly as a run-stopping/0-tech tackle in his first season with the Bills. In 2019, he recorded his first sack with the team against the Miami Dolphins in week 11.[50] Two weeks later against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, Lotulelei recorded his first NFL interception, picking off a screen pass from Dak Prescott and then blocking a field goal in the same game.[51][52] In the 2019 playoffs, Lotulelei had a key play late in the 4th quarter of the Wild-card game against the Houston Texans, stuffing quarterback Deshaun Watson on a 4th-down quarterback sneak to give the Bills the ball back, after which they drove down the field for a game-tying field goal, but Buffalo lost in overtime 19–22.[53]

On 28 July 2020, Lotulelei announced he was opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[54]

In August 2021, Lotulelei was placed in a COVID-19 safety protocol due to a close contact with the virus.[55] He was placed back on the active roster on 27 August 2021.[56]

On 18 March 2022, Lotulelei was released by the Bills.[57]

NFL career statistics

Year Team Games Tackles Interceptions Fumbles
GP GS Comb Solo Ast Sack Sfty PD Int Yds Avg Lng TD FF FR
2013 CAR 16 16 42 31 11 3.0
2014 CAR 14 13 26 19 7 2.0 1
2015 CAR 14 14 22 13 9 1.0 2 1 1
2016 CAR 16 16 26 14 12 4.0 1 1
2017 CAR 16 16 25 6 19 1.5 1 1
2018 BUF 16 16 17 10 7 0.0 1
2019 BUF 16 16 19 12 7 2.0 1 1
2020 BUF 0 0 did not play due to Covid-19 holdout
Total 108 107 177 105 72 13.5 0 7 1 0 0.0 0 0 2 2

Personal life

Born in Tonga, Lotulelei moved with his family to Utah at age 9. His father, Sitaliti, is a Mormon seminary teacher and has a doctorate from Brigham Young University.[58][59]

Lotulelei is married to Fuiva (née Hola) of Draper, Utah, a former volleyball player he met at Snow College in 2008.[60] The couple has two daughters, Arilani (born 2009) and Pesatina (born 2011).

Lotulelei is a cousin of former AAF linebacker John Lotulelei[61] and brother-in-law to rugby league player Fuifui Moimoi.[62]


  1. ^ Wodraska, Lya (28 December 2011). "Star Lotulelei makes his name known". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  2. ^ Utah top 15 2007
  3. ^ Harmon, Dick (17 March 2005). "Cottonwood players impress at combine". Deseret News.
  4. ^ a b Feldman, Bruce (24 July 2012). "Lotulelei learns to stay focused after seeing others drift off the pro football radar".
  5. ^ Simione Fili - Strongman on YouTube
  6. ^ a b Luhm, Steve (14 September 2011). "Star Lotulelei now a 'difference-maker'". Salt Lake Tribune.
  7. ^ Donaldson, Amy (7 December 2008). "Snow College football: The Butler did it in double-OT duel". Desert News. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  8. ^ "Lotulelei leads second-half defensive effort". Salt Lake Tribune. 31 December 2011.
  9. ^ "BYU misses 2 last-second FGs, falls to Utah". ESPN. 15 September 2012.
  10. ^ Utah football: He's still Star of the defense, but Lotulelei needs help
  11. ^ Prisco, Pete (30 April 2012). "Top 32 for 2013: Barkley headlines a class that already looks deep". CBS Sports.
  12. ^ Pauline, Tony (8 November 2012). "Barkevious Mingo, Bjoern Werner, Star Lotulelei in top 50".
  13. ^ "NFP Mock Draft 1.0". National Football Post. 4 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Extra Points: Mock Draft version 1.0". Fox News. 5 February 2013.
  15. ^ "A Star is Born: Breaking Down Elite 2013 NFL Draft DT Star Lotulelei from Utah". Bleacher Report.
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  17. ^ "Star Lotulelei, Utah, DT, 2013 NFL Draft Scout, NCAA College Football". Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  18. ^ Mortensen, Chris (25 February 2013). "Star Lotulelei has heart condition, won't work out Monday".
  19. ^ a b Carreon, Ryan (4 March 2013). "Breaking down former Ute defensive lineman Star Lotulelei's heart condition". Deseret News.
  20. ^ Schad, Joe (2 April 2013). "Doc tells NFL it's 'safe' for Lotulelei to play". ESPN. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  21. ^ Star Lotulelei bench Press at Utah Pro Day on YouTube
  22. ^ Wodraska, Lya (20 March 2013). "Utah football: Star Lotulelei impresses at Utah's Pro Day". Salt Like Tribune. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  23. ^ "Star Lotulelei dominates at Utah's pro day, may regain esteemed position after combine diagnosis". Yahoo! Sports. 20 March 2013. Before the heart condition that was diagnosed at the scouting combine, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was thought by most NFL analysts to be a top-3 pick in the upcoming draft, and top-10 at worst. But it was reported on February 24 that abnormalities seen in his echocardiogram—Lotulelei's left ventricle was pumping at 44 percent efficiency compared with the normal range of 55 to 70 percent. That put his combine drills on the shelf, and his future as a high draft prospect in doubt.
  24. ^ Banks, Don (3 April 2013). "2013 NFL Mock Draft 4.0". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  25. ^ Galko, Eric (8 April 2013). "NFL mock draft: Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson climbs into top five". Sporting News. Archived from the original on 30 November 2021. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
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  27. ^ Banks, Don (17 April 2013). "2013 NFL Mock Draft 6.0". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  28. ^ "2013 NFL Draft Listing". Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  29. ^ "Star Lotulelei". Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  30. ^ Greg Hardy: Carolina Panthers have a star in rookie Lotulelei
  31. ^ Stockwell, Ben (23 January 2014). "2013 PFF All-NFC South Team". Pro Football Focus. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  32. ^ Henson, Max (15 January 2014). "2013 rookie class in review". Carolina Panthers. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  33. ^ Elsayed, Khaled (8 January 2014). "2013 PFF Defensive Rookie of the Year". Pro Football Focus. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  34. ^ Hornsby, Neil (8 January 2014). "2013 PFF All-Rookie Team". Pro Football Focus. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  35. ^ Fairburn, Matthew (9 January 2014). "2013 NFL All-Rookie Team Defense". Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  36. ^ Ballentine, Alex (1 February 2014). "NFL Rookie of the Year 2013-14 Results: Offensive & Defensive Winners and Recap". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  37. ^ Drummond, Rick (8 September 2014). "ReFo: Panthers @ Buccaneers, Week 1". Pro Football Focus. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  38. ^ Palazzolo, Steve (29 December 2014). "ReFo: Panthers @ Falcons, Week 17". Pro Football Focus. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  39. ^ Maney, Thomas (22 January 2015). "2014 PFF All-NFC South Team". Pro Football Focus. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  40. ^ a b Dubin, Jared (3 August 2015). "Panthers DT Lotulelei has stress reaction in surgically-repaired foot". CBS Sports. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  41. ^ "Panthers vs. Buccaneers - Box Score - October 4, 2015". ESPN. 4 October 2015. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  42. ^ "Green Bay 29 - 37 Carolina: Final | 8 November 2015". Yahoo! Sports. 8 November 2015. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  43. ^ "Super Bowl 50 - Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers - February 7th, 2016". Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  44. ^ "Super Bowl 50 - National Football League Game Summary" (PDF). Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  45. ^ Henson, Max (26 April 2016). "Panthers exercise Lotulelei's fifth-year option". Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  46. ^ "Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers - September 10th, 2017". Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  47. ^ "Star Lotulelei 2017 Game Log". Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  48. ^ Gantt, Darin (13 March 2018). "Bills bringing Star Lotulelei to Carolina North".
  49. ^ Brown, Chris (14 March 2018). "Run stuffer Lotulelei, pass rusher Murphy headline Bills free agent acquisitions".
  50. ^ "Bills' Star Lotulelei: Registers first sack of season". 19 November 2019. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  51. ^ Zemek, Matthew (28 November 2019). "Star Lotulelei Picks Off Dak Prescott's Screen Pass Attempt". ClutchPoints. Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  52. ^ "Trick TD sparks Bills in 26-15 Thanksgiving win over Cowboys". 28 November 2019. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  53. ^ "Watch Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans [01/04/2020] including a live Drive Chart and real-time highlights". Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  54. ^ Glab, Maddy (28 July 2020). "Star Lotulelei opts out of the 2020 season; Tommy Sweeney placed on PUP list". Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  55. ^ "Star Lotulelei joins Cole Beasley, Gabe Davis on COVID reentry protocol". Bills Wire. 24 August 2021. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  56. ^ Lasting, Dante (27 August 2021). "Bills activate four players from reserve/COVID list". Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  57. ^ "Bills release defensive tackle Star Lotulelei". 18 March 2022.
  58. ^ Gaughan, Mark (16 March 2013). "Road to the Draft: Star Lotulelei". The Buffalo News. Archived from the original on 6 April 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  59. ^ Rock, Brad (4 August 2012). "Utah Utes football: Lotulelei goes from furniture mover to rising Star". Deseret News. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  60. ^ "Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers' first-round pick, is a quiet family man". Charlotte Observer. 26 April 2013.
  61. ^ Condotta, Bob (12 August 2013). "Seahawks rookie John Lotulelei turning heads with play and locks". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  62. ^ Logue, Matt (7 February 2016). "Fuifui's bro-in-law to target Manning". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 October 2021.

External links

  • Utah Utes bio
  • KSL5Sports feature: From furniture store to future NFL Draft pick on YouTube
  • v
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Morris Trophy winners
  • v
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Carolina Panthers 2013 NFL draft selections