Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's Been a Whirlwind Journey For Idaho's Iupati

The past month has been a bit surreal for Idaho senior Mike Iupati, and things aren't expected to slow down for the 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive guard.

Iupati became a consensus All-American, traveled to Orlando, Fla., because he was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, taken final exams and has narrowed his choice for an agent - all while trying to prepare for the Vandals' appearance in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl.

"It's been crazy," Iupati said.

But the multi-tasking is something that Iupati has handled like he does an opponent's defensive line - brilliantly.

"With Mike, I don't think it's been hard, I think it's been fun," coach Robb Akey said. "He's been eyes wide open the whole time. He's a kid who is appreciating everything that comes to him.

"ESPN people were thanking me when we were leaving Orlando. They talked about how sometimes kids come down here and it's all about them because they like getting the notoriety. They told me they've never had anyone more genuinely appreciative than Mike Iupati. I think that says a lot for him as a person."

The native of American Samoa who moved to the United States when he finished junior high was star-struck in Orlando. The ESPNU Home Depot College Football Awards show featured the likes of Colt McCoy, Mark Ingram and Tim Tebow. Bowling Green receiver Freddie Barnes, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, also attended.

"When I first got there, I felt out of place," Iupati said.

After the H-Bowl, Iupati will travel to New Haven, Conn., for the Walter Camp Football Foundation dinner Jan. 16. He then will prepare the Jan. 30 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he'll get another shot at impressing NFL scouts who have told the Idaho Statesman that he can be picked anywhere from the first to third round in the April draft.

"I'm excited about what his future can be," Akey said. "It's been awesome to watch it take place. All he's ever done is work as had as he can."

The fanfare and craziness hasn't affected Iupati's preparations.

"He's practiced well," Akey said. "A couple times coach (Dan) Finn grabbed him and said, 'We need better focus,' but in the grand scheme of things, he has handled it very very well."

Iupati plans to relocate to Irvine, Calif., to prepare for the NFL Combine. He'll sign with an agent - he's keeping his choice quiet - after the season.

Speaking of the season, it's something that remains a high priority to him. He is one of 12 seniors who helped Idaho record its first winning season in 10 years.

"We want to finish strong," Iupati said. "We wanted to win our last game against Utah State, and hopefully this one will be different."

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