When Luther Elliss came out of tiny Mancos High School in Colorado in 1991, he was only recruited by a handful of colleges. He came to Utah because he liked coach Ron McBride a lot and because McBride told him he could play basketball - his first love at the time.
Of course, Elliss never made it to the basketball floor after playing a lot as a freshman. Now a senior, Elliss has become a big-time player - a preseason all-American tackle and Outland Trophy candidate.These days there are about 100 other major colleges that wish they had Elliss on their defensive line. He may end up being the best defensive lineman ever to play for Utah and has an NFL future ahead of him. Not bad for a guy who preferred basketball in high school.
Elliss, who has already been named to the Playboy preseason all-American team and is the preseason choice as WAC defensive player of the year, is the anchor of a Ute defensive line that should be very good this year.
He's bulked up during the offseason ("I eat six meals a day. I eat a lot of pasta and rice - I love rice.") and now weighs 295 pounds, up 35 pounds from a year ago. He has moved from his usual defensive end position to defensive tackle. Now opponents won't be able to run away from him like they did last year.
Elliss will be joined inside by Henry Kaufusi, who prepped at East High before playing at Dixie JC. Kaufusi actually walked on the team and after redshirting last year, earned the starting tackle job this year.
Senior Bronzell Miller started every game at right end last year when he made 50 tackles and five quarterback sacks. He's being pushed this year by Louie DeCastro, a junior from Hawaii. The left end position will be manned by another Hawaiian, Nate Kia, who was a backup a year ago as a freshman.
Like many other positions at Utah this year, depth will be important on the defensive line.
"They key will be the backups," said coach Ron McBride. "We have a lot of good players on the defensive line and there could be somebody who emerges."
Besides DeCastro, other players looking good in workouts are Mike Baulkman, a JC transfer from Florida, Mike Wilson, another Hawaiian, and Pouha Finau, a 290-pounder, who played basketball for San Jose State as a freshman.