University of Idaho senior guard Mike Iupati is one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, which honors college football's most outstanding interior lineman.
Not surprisingly, the three finalists for this year's Outland Trophy are all top position prospects for the NFL draft set to take place next spring. Iupati, currently ranked the No. 1 offensive guard prospect in the nation by Scout.com, is joined as a finalist by Oklahoma State's Russell Okung (ranked the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect by Scout.com) and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh (Scout.com's No. 1 defensive tackle prospect for the NFL draft).
"He's a big strong man, who has great athletic ability," coach Robb Akey said. "He has the ability to move, the ability to run. He's physical at the point of attack. He also does a lot of good things as he's pulling. He can handle guys out in space. His athleticism combined with his size make him a special player."
The following is from the Football Writers Association of America Official press release: Iupati, a 6-6, 330-pound senior from Anaheim, Calif., is projected as a high NFL draft pick and has been the anchor for the Vandals' offensive line, which has helped produce more than 30 points a game this season and the 17th best passing offense in college football. Born in Samoa, Iupati, the former high school wrestler and track star has been one of the major reasons the Vandals have compiled a 7-4 record and are bowl-eligible heading into the regular-season finale again Utah State on Saturday.
There's more to Iupati, who came to Idaho from Western High School at Anaheim, Calif. (with scholarship offers from Arizona and UTEP), but who grew up in American Samoa.
"He hasn't been in the United States all that long," said Akey of Iupati, whose family moved to the United States when he was 14. "He just started playing football when he was in high school."
As a freshman he worked as a backup left guard for Idaho in 2006. Then as a sophomore Iupati took command of the starting left guard position in 2007 and became recognized as one of the hardest hitting linemen on the Vandal football team -- a walking highlight reel. He became so valuable in the Vandal trenches in 2007 that he also earned reps on the Vandal defensive line in short yardage situations (making his first collegiate defensive play in a game on a goal line stand in the season opener against USC).
Last season, despite missing much of the first half of the schedule as he recovered from a shoulder injury, Iupati earned the respect of the Western Athletic Conference and was named a Second Team All-WAC offensive line selection.
"He's a first-class young man," Akey said. "He was elected team captain by his teammates for a reason."
The Outland Trophy first was awarded in 1946 and is named to honor Pennsylvania's John Outland, one of only a few players in history ever to be named All-America at two positions. He was a consensus All-America in 1898 at tackle and a consensus All-America honors at back in 1899.
Outland had always contended that football tackles and guards deserved greater recognition and conceived the Outland Trophy as a means of providing this recognition. Today, the Outland Trophy is recognized as one of the nation's most prestigious awards, given to the nation's most outstanding offensive or defensive interior lineman.
The list of winners of the Outland Trophy since 1990 include the following:
1990 Russell Maryland, NT, Miami
1991 Steve Emtman, DT, Washington
1992 Will Shields, G, Nebraska
1993 Rob Waldrop, NG, Arizona
1994 Zach Wiegert, OT, Nebraska
1995 Jonathan Ogden, OT, UCLA
1996 Orlando Pace, OT, Ohio State
1997 Aaron Taylor, G, Nebraska
1998 Kris Farris, OT, UCLA
1999 Chris Samuels, OT, Alabama
2000 John Henderson, DT, Tennessee
2001 Bryant McKinnie, OT, Miami
2002 Rien Long, DT, Washington State
2003 Robert Gallery, OT, Iowa
2004 Jammal Brown, OT, Oklahoma
2005 Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota
2006 Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin
2007 Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
2008 Andre Smith, OT, Alabama