"I'm watching every play"

When Notre Dame plays on Saturdays Justin Utupo is usually glued to the TV as he watches his future teammates. With every game the defensive lineman from Lakewood High School (Lakewood, Calif.) gets more excited about the thought that he'll be in a Notre Dame uniform next season.

Notre Dame commitment, Justin Utupo (6-foot-3, 260-pounds) is busy with his senior season, but he always make time to stay in touch with the Notre Dame coaching staff.

"I actually was just talking to coach Polian," Utupo said. "He just asks me how everything is going. How our games are, how I'm doing in school and how my family is doing. He tells me about what happens in their games. He says they're doing good, but they need to put teams away instead of staying close all the time.

"I always watch them on TV. I'm actually surprised at how well they're doing. People didn't expect them to be this good. They're doing better than they were last year. It's good to see them improving, because next year we'll still be improving."

While the Irish defense has struggled to stop opponents this year, Utupo sees a defense that is starting to gel, and he's upbeat about the future of the Notre Dame football program.

"I'm watching every play and seeing who makes the play," Justin explained. "I see the different type of defenses and schemes. They bring a lot of pressure and I like their style. It's cool knowing that I'm going to be playing there next year. I'm excited to see that younger players are getting a chance to play. I just can't wait until next year when I'm given that opportunity.

"They had a couple great goal line stands a couple weeks ago. I'm just amazed at how well they're playing. I know they can play better, but they're bringing it this year."

"Manti (Te'o) is a baller," he said. "For only a freshman, the things he's doing already… he's going to be a beast in the future. Everyone in our house is already rooting for Manti. He's the only player everyone in my family knows. They all go crazy when he does something."

The Utupo family is also excited about what Justin and his Lakeville teammates are doing this season.

"We're 7-1 right now," Utupo said. "We have two game and then the playoffs. We're No. 1 in our league. We have to win the next two to stay in the top seed.

"I'm doing all right. I could do better, but it's been good so far. I have five sacks and almost 50 tackles. I have four touchdowns on offense. They have me at tight end sometimes. They mostly go to me when we're in the red zone."

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories