Lotulelei gets opportunity with Jaguars
Last week was wild for John Lotulelei.
The former Baldwin High School linebacker experienced life change in the NFL in a couple of the largest ways possible.
Lotulelei went from little used on the Seattle Seahawks’ sixth-ranked defense to a special teams starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars, ranked 21st in defense, in just over 48 hours.
A red-eye cross-country flight took him from a team with an unbeaten record (now 4-1) to one that remains winless.
“It was crazy,” Lotulelei said via telephone from his Jacksonville hotel room on Monday, one day after his Jaguars debut in a 34-20 road loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Lotulelei said the Seahawks had hoped to get him through waivers so they could get a backup quarterback, B.J. Daniels.
“When I talked to Pete (Carroll, Seattle’s head coach), he said he wanted to bring me back in, but he didn’t know if I would clear waivers,” Lotulelei said.
Waiver rights are given priority in inverse order to record, and the 2009 Baldwin graduate, who starred at Nevada-Las Vegas, didn’t last long in being picked up by the Jaguars (0-5).
Lotulelei had 12 tackles for the Seahawks in preseason play, third on the team, and his three regular-season tackles for Seattle all came in a Sept. 22 win over Jacksonville.
“I had a feeling that I wasn’t coming back and I know I had great tape out there, so I just started to wait,” he said.
The call came from Jacksonville at about 1 p.m. in Seattle on Thursday – he was on a plane to Florida that night.
“I came in on Friday and had a walkthrough with them and started on special teams on Sunday,” Lotulelei said.
Against the Rams, he started on the kickoff, kickoff-return and punt-return units, and felt some familiarity – the Jaguars’ first-year head coach, Gus Bradley, had been the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator the previous four seasons.
“What I really thought was he upgraded us special-teams wise,” Bradley said about Lotulelei on Friday in a video on the team website. “He did a nice job in the preseason at linebacker, but he has the ability to be a four-core special teams guy. With Dave (Caldwell, the Jaguars’ general manager) and I, we are always looking at the practice squad and those parts of our roster, and right now we’re competing to always look to improve that part of the roster, and we felt like this could be a great addition to help us improve in that area, and on special teams.”
Lotulelei, just the third Maui Interscholastic League graduate to play in the NFL, has learned quickly that the league is a business.
“Early in the season, another linebacker who was with me and made the (Seattle) team, he was balling during preseason also, and after the first game he was released,” Lotulelei said. “It wasn’t that he wasn’t good – it was a numbers deal. It is something that everyone on the team has to understand and prepare for.”
Lotulelei heard that message in team meetings and practice as well.
“Even (Carroll) warned us, we are not a Seahawk for the whole season,” Lotulelei said. “When I got released I was partially happy and I was kind of broken down a little bit.
Just being in Seattle, witnessing all those wins, the environment was great.
“But I knew if I had a chance, if I got picked up somewhere, I would have more time playing, more time to develop myself.”
Being picked up so quickly emphasized what Lotulelei felt he is establishing.
“It showed that other teams are interested in what I can bring to the table and what I can do for them,” he said.
Lotulelei is listed as the second-team outside linebacker on the Jaguars’ depth chart, behind Russell Allen.
“I’m learning the defense pretty well,” Lotulelei said. “It is similar to what we ran in Seattle. This week, I get to concentrate on the defensive side of the ball.”
Florida is the farthest east he has traveled in his life.
“I’m super stoked, the defense is just like Seattle,” Lotulelei said. “When I talked to (Bradley) he told me they are trying to build this team from the bottom up, so if I get the chance to be here for that long, we will see what we can do with this team. That would be awesome.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org