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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seize chance to view 'legend'

Jake Alger
sports@idahopress.com

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Five names are

emblazoned across one of the Kibbie Dome walls. They're Idaho football legends — Vandal greats who have had their jersey numbers retired and whose excellence won't soon be forgotten.

In 2009, senior offensive guard Mike Iupati has made a rock-solid case for placement on that wall. Heck, I wouldn't volunteer to be the guy telling him he doesn't belong.

The 6-foot-6-inch, 330-pound American Samoa-born athlete has come a long way in his football journey. Once upon a time Iupati's academic struggles, stemming from trouble fully grasping the English language, hindered his collegiate recruitment. Several years later, he has progressed both off and on the gridiron, helping clear the way for well-spread passing and rushing attacks this season.

Expert analysts across the U.S. are taking note. Already Iupati has racked up an impressive collection of 2009 honors:

— One of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, given annually to the best interior lineman in the nation

— First-Team All-America selection by the Football Writers Association of America

— First-Team All-America selection by the Walter Camp Football Foundation

— First-Team All-America selection by the American Football Coaches Association

— First-Team All-America selection by The Associated Press.

Iupati's Outland Trophy showing stands out as sure-fire proof of his reputation nationally. This is one of the most important symbols of success in college football, as evidenced by its inclusion in ESPN's vastly overdone TV awards show. Part of its allure is that both defensive and offensive players are eligible to win.

This year a Heisman Trophy finalist, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, won the Outland. The group of past finalists is littered with first-round NFL draft picks. Future professional Hall of Famers including Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace and Warren Sapp have received this honor, as has all-time sack king Bruce Smith.

Iupati's accolades shouldn't end here. He has earned the right to be mentioned — and listed — with the best players in Vandal history.

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