As surprised as Notre Dame football fans were to hear that Justin Utupo (6-foot-3, 260-pounds) committed to the Irish a couple of weeks ago, he was probably just as surprised that he was going to attend a school that he had never even visited.
"At first, my family and I wanted to stay on the west coast," Utupo said when asked about his recruitment. "But as soon as Notre Dame offered us, we looked into it and thought ‘Wow, what a great opportunity to have a chance to come play at Notre Dame and the opportunity to get an education from Notre Dame.', so I guess I just jumped on it then.
Coach Polian basicly told me pretty much everything I needed to know about Notre Dame and the education. People think that Manti Te'o was a factor in me going there. Actually, I never even talked to him, but knowing that he's Somoan and he's there and he's someone I can relate to, that's kind of a plus too.
"I already knew that if I went there I would fall in love with it," he said. "I know it's going to be cold over there and I'm used to the hot weather, but I'm willing to sacrifice those years of being in the cold. I just know if I go there, I'm going to love it no matter what.
Now that Justin has made Notre Dame his college choice, the next step is to see his future home. Utupo will make the trek out from California with his parents for Notre Dame's home opener against Nevada. It's fitting that both parents make the trip together since they were somewhat split over him leaving the West Coast.
"At first my mom hated the idea of me leaving," Justin explained. "She was the main one wanting me to stay here on the West Coast. After she looked into Notre Dame and she saw how great the education is she was all for it though. My dad, he wanted me to go out and grow up on my own. It was kind of a split between my parents, so they both just decided that it was best for me to go away from the family and do something new."
Notre Dame needs to bolster their defensive front and Utupo could help the Irish at defensive end or ultimately growing into a defensive tackle. Regardless of where he settles in, Justin just wants to help his future teammates win.
"I just want to be on the field and help the team out," Justin explained. "Wherever they need me, I'll play anywhere. Wherever they put me I'll play, but if I play defensive tackle, I know I have to put on more weight.
"I play defensive tackle now. That's where my high school needed me to play. I'm like a quick defensive tackle. I use my speed to beat the big guards. This year, I play the defensive end. My coaches say they see a difference in the way I play. I'm stronger this year, bringing power and speed. It really doesn't matter what I play on the field, I even play some linebacker."