"I feel a lot more whole and fulfilled," Lutui said. "It was my father's dream."
Lutui will be among 204 legal residents who take the Oath of Allegiance this morning at South Mountain Community College as part of the Fiesta of Independence celebration.
"This day is very important to me," Lutui said. "I feel like I'm graduating again. I should wear my cap and gown."
Lutui started the citizenship-application process in 2001, but the Sept. 11 attacks caused delays. Some of the final requirements were met last fall, when Lutui had to miss some practices and meetings for interviews.
As someone who had lived most of his life in Mesa, he said some of the questions were almost comical. "I don't think I studied for it," he said. "They were asking me things like what was the longest river in the U.S. They were common-sense questions."
Lutui called it "frustrating" to miss practice because of the citizenship process, but he had the full support of coach Ken
"It was a no-brainer," Lutui said. "He let me go."
The final interview came the week before Thanksgiving, as the Cardinals prepared to play in St. Louis. Inoke Lutui passed away that same week.
Lutui started that game, despite missing practice time.
"I wish he was alive for this," Lutui said of his father. "I'm accomplishing one of his goals."
This is a high point in a tumultuous off-season for Lutui, a second-round pick out of Southern California in 2006. A restricted free
The team was offering a one-year, qualifying offer of $1.76 million, which Lutui ultimately signed. Lutui's absence frustrated coaches, who were concerned about the guard's conditioning.
A recent report said Lutui weighed 396 pounds.
Lutui declined to comment Thursday about his contract and his weight, preferring to concentrate on Friday's achievement.
The ongoing immigration debate provides an intriguing backdrop to the ceremony. As a longtime Arizona resident, Lutui is familiar with the controversy surrounding SB 1070 and has mixed feelings about it.
"I'm on both ends," he said. "Enforcing the laws of 1070, it's something to think about.
"I'm not a citizen and I'm driving, knowing at any given time I could be questioned and thinking, 'Oh, freak, where is my green card?'
"(Friday) I'm going to throw that green card away. It feels good to have that weight off my shoulders. I've been waiting a long time. I understand both sides, of how to do it right and also being a non-citizen. But, hey, I still play for 'Los Cardenales.' "