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Sunday, January 03, 2010

LA Times Lineman of the Year

When the buzz on the Lakewood High campus last summer centered on the Lancers' ending rival Long Beach Poly's epic Moore League winning streak, Justin Utupo refused to partake in smack talk.

"We have a lot of confidence that we could win," the senior defensive end said in August. "But I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Yeah, we're going to beat them.' "

Utupo proved far more unrestrained on the field. He recovered two fumbles to help Lakewood to a 21-14 victory that snapped Poly's 80-game league winning streak. It was the first time the Lancers had beaten the Jackrabbits since 1982.

The Times' lineman of the year finished the season with 16 sacks, 29 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles. Four of his sacks came during the Lancers' triumph over La Puente Bishop Amat in a Southern Section Pac-5 Division quarterfinal.

"Justin was the heart and soul of our defense," Lakewood Coach Thadd MacNeal said. "He made all the little plays he was supposed to make and then he made the Notre Dame-type plays."

Utupo committed to Notre Dame in July and has said he will stick with his pledge in the wake of Coach Charlie Weis' dismissal. Fighting Irish fans hope Utupo will give them something to talk about for the next four years.

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