Lotulelei made his own path to NFL

One of John Lotulelei’s first texts after learning he had made the Seattle Seahawks’ roster on Saturday was to his older brother Saia.

If any experience other than his own has taught John Lotulelei about how to make it in sports, it is the long, winding path Saia Lotulelei has traveled.

Saia Lotulelei qualified for the NAIA national wrestling tournament in March as a 29-year-old freshman for York College of Nebraska – 12 years after he won his third state title for Maui High School.

John Lotulelei’s journey required beating the odds as well, but it’s led the 2009 Baldwin graduate to a job as an NFL linebacker.

“I called him, I just texted him – I was calling him before I found out,” John Lotulelei said of Saia, one of his nine siblings. “He said he is super, super proud of me.”

Younger brother Tau, a redshirt freshman linebacker for Nevada-Las Vegas – where John Lotulelei played two seasons after a stint at Merced Junior College – had to wait for the word.

“I’m pretty sure he knows, but he lost his phone, so I can’t get a hold of him,” John Lotulelei said with a chuckle.

Lotulelei is just the third Maui County player to make an NFL regular-season roster, joining current Oakland Raiders linebacker Kaluka Maiava, also a Baldwin graduate, and Molokai’s Kimo von Oelhoffen, a former defensive lineman.

“I’m just, I’m trying not to get too excited over here,” Lotulelei said. “Oh man.”

Lotulelei said he would like to open doors for other Maui Interscholastic League players.

“I believe I can, Kaluka showed that he could do it,” Lotulelei said. “I hope others can see that dreams are not over if you keep pushing.”

Lotulelei has proved that, after signing with Seattle as an undrafted free agent in April.

“I did doubt myself a couple times when I was at the bottom of the depth chart,” he said. “Some days I just didn’t have a chance to practice or show what I got. When it did happen, coaches recognized what I was doing.”

Lotulelei played as a Baldwin sophomore with then-senior JoJo Dickson, a linebacker who was cut by the New York Jets on Saturday. The Jets also released defensive lineman Tevita Finau, who attended Lahainaluna and Maui High, then added him to their practice squad on Sunday.

Dickson played collegiately at Idaho, and Finau at Utah.

“I know they can play, they got there the same way I did,” Lotulelei said. “Free agent, undrafted, so they have the same chip on their shoulders, so I know they can get picked up by other teams.”

Dickson helped Lotulelei during his Baldwin days.

“I used to look up to him, he was a great leader on the field and off the field, too,” Lotulelei said. “He gave me rides and everything. Even when he came back from Idaho, he coached me up a little.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com