HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 6: Lombardi Award finalist Laiatu Latu of UCLA. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 6: Lombardi Award finalist Laiatu Latu of UCLA. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)

Laiatu Latu Awards Recap

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UCLA’s Laiatu Latu has had an exceptional season this year.

Although the defensive lineman suffered what could have been a career-ending neck injury in 2020, he has come back stronger than ever. Now, the 23-year-old is one of the most accomplished players of his draft class winning a slew of awards all in December of 2023.

Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year

On December 5, Latu was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. The annual award is given to the defensive player that coaches feel is the best defensive player in the conference. 

Saturday Out West says Latu is the fifth Bruin to win the award all-time and the first since 2009. 

According to the Pac-12, Latu has had back-to-back seasons as first team All-Pac-12. In addition, he won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week once this season and Defensive Lineman of the Week twice. Finally, he is just the fourth Pac-12 player with at least 13 sacks in the last 7 seasons of college football.

The Pac-12 posted this video highlighting Latu’s accomplishments. 

Latu wins the Lombardi Award

Just one day after he received the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Latu won the 50th Lombardi Award

“This is all so crazy to me,” Latu said after winning the honor. “This award means so much to me. … I have to give my appreciation to Coach Chip Kelly and the UCLA program.”

Also presented annually, the award is given to the sport’s most “outstanding college lineman” Los Angeles Daily News writes. Finalists for the award included Latu, Notre Dame offensive lineman Joe Alt, Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, and Utah defensive end Jonah Elliss.

A Bruin had never won the award before Latu. Instead of focusing on the accomplishment, though, Latu withheld the news from teammates to keep everyone’s focus on their rivalry game against USC during Week 12. 

I just want to win the game this week,” Latu told Chip Kelly, convincing his coach not to share the news with the team. His plan worked because UCLA came out victorious.

Hendricks Award

One day after he was awarded the Lombardi Honor, Latu added the Hendricks Award to his collection. This award is given to the best defensive end in college football and he yet again, made history by being the first Bruin to receive the award in its 21 years of existence.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Latu achieved 13 sacks for UCLA this season, which makes him the third-best in that category in the history of UCLA. 

Latu also racked up 49 total tackles, which is nearly half of his career total. He also contributed two forced fumbles, two interceptions, and two defended passes.

With these stats, Latu seems to have a solid chance of being a first-round pick, as well.

Latu earns Polynesian College Football Defensive Player of the Year

Finally, on December 14, Latu received the Polynesian College Football Defensive Player of the Year Award. This is a unique honor that recognizes the most outstanding Polynesian college football player who epitomizes great ability and integrity.

The defensive award was bestowed upon Latu while University of Maryland Quarterback (QB) Taulia Tagovailoa won the offensive award. Taulia is brothers with Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa and both brothers are of Samoan ancestry while Latu is of Tongan ancestry.

“We congratulate Taulia and Laiatu on outstanding seasons and collegiate careers,” said Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Chairman Jesse Sapolu according to 247 Sports. “Their accomplishments are a source of great pride for the Polynesian community.”

Overall, Latu has made an incredible comeback and now has a bright future as a professional athlete. Keep your eye out for him at the 2024 NFL Draft to see where he lands.

Victoria Jonach is an aspiring writer and media analyst fascinated by what kinds of activities players participate in off the football field. Growing up in New Jersey, she is a New York Giants fan and attends Rutgers University, pursuing a career in Journalism and Media Studies. She writes for FirstRoundMock.com covering anticipated draft picks and their acts of volunteerism, entrepreneurship, and other interests that shape these individuals.

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