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Idaho's Mike Iupate could be most versatile find in nfl draft


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By Nate Davis, USA TODAY INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Iupati has become a projected first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft largely thanks to the sacrifice and wisdom of his parents. The wisdom of NFL scouts will soon determine his professional fate. Widely considered the top prospect at guard — NFLDraftScout.com, USA TODAY's scouting service, ranks Iupati the No. 15 player overall and the only guard projected to go in the first two rounds — he could also get a long look at the more valued left tackle position or even on defense.

"I really love defense," Iupati, who played collegiately at Idaho, said Thursday at the scouting combine. "That's my favorite passion of the game of football.

TOP 64 PROSPECTS: Iupati in top 15 players of NFL draft class "I always try to push my coach to make me a defensive player because I know I am pretty good at that."

Iupati did play in the Vandals' defensive goal-line packages, but given his talent on the other side of the ball, the only position switch that seems likely is a shift away from his interior position.

"I'm very quick setting up my left side," says Iupati (6-5, 331 pounds), who primarily played left guard in college and models his game after Minnesota Vikings all-pro Steve Hutchinson.

But he worked at left tackle at the Senior Bowl last month. He's also received instruction from Jackie Slater, a Hall-of-Fame tackle for the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams for 20 years.

"I need a little time with it and I know I'll be fine. You've got to give me time," Iupati says.

And time could mean cash if he shows he can protect his quarterback's blind side.

"That's where the money is."

But such a windfall might never have been possible if Iupati's parents hadn't given up a comfortable life on Samoa and moved the family to the U.S. when their son was 14.

"My family decided they wanted us to have a good education. They sacrificed a lot of stuff to move from Samoa because we were very well off," says Iupati.

Iupati's parents both worked to support the family in Anaheim, Calif.

"Lived there paycheck to paycheck," he says. "It's been hard. That's why I always take advantage of every little opportunity I get, just try to seize the moment so I can have a better future for myself and my family."

His lucrative horizon got another fateful nudge from his parents when he was attending junior college.

"I was at a barbecue function," says Iupati, "and Idaho was there recruiting J.C. players. They saw me there and they recruited me and went to my high school the next day and offered me a Prop 48 deal. I refused it, but my parents were the reason I took the offer because they took out a loan and paid for my first year (at Idaho)."

That investment appears ready to return some major dividends. And Iupati plans to repay his parents by fulfilling their dream and building them a house in Samoa, which has become a hotbed for American football, including a new Pop Warner league.

"It's very big," he says. "The opportunity, they know they can have a better future in football and just the love of the game."

Iupati does have some detractors and received criticism for grabbing and holding too much at the Senior Bowl.

"I don't know why I did that," he admits. "I guess that the pass blocking kind of changed of my game. I didn't want to get beat so I didn't want to just try to tackle them … sort of made me look real bad."

But he should be looking good come April 22, the first day of the draft.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock thinks Iupati could be a perfect fit at pick No. 18 for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team whose line has struggled in recent seasons.

Iupati thinks whatever team selects him will get a bargain.

"They're getting the whole package I think, character-wise and the physicalness," he says. "I have a lot of goals entering the league and I know I will get most of them."


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