UCLA’s Laiatu Latu Nominated For Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award

UCLA’s Laiatu Latu Nominated For Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award

DALLAS (FWAA) — UCLA’s Laiatu Latu is this week’s nominee for the 2023 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Latu, a senior, has recovered from neck surgery to become a dominant defensive force for the 25th-ranked Bruins.

Latu, who spent the first three years of his career at Washington, suffered a potential career-ending neck injury in 2020, as he was told by doctors that he would never play again.

Latu took a hit in practice in the lead-up to the Huskies’ season opener in November of 2020. Numbness lingered, and doctors could not determine the root cause of it. Feeling fine, Latu underwent neck surgery in March of 2021, hoping for clarity. But results were inconclusive and Washington would not clear him to return to the field, offering him a student coaching position instead.

“During that process, when I found out the news, I broke down,” Latu told Bruin Blue, UCLA’s athletics magazine. “It was a tough time for me. I wasn’t super optimistic. I took time and realized what I was going through. The thought of not playing football again broke my heart.”

Latu and his mother, Kerry, exhausted all options before being referred to Dr. Robert Watkins of Cedars-Sinai. Watkins, who was affiliated with the UCLA football team, cleared Latu to return to the field after Latu met certain benchmarks. Latu transferred to UCLA, which had also hired his position coach at Washington, Ikaika Malloe, as its new defensive line and outside linebackers coach.

The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Latu returned to contact in the fall of 2022, and he hasn’t looked back since. Latu earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading the Bruins with 12.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks last season.

The Sacramento native has picked up right where he left off so far this season. Latu’s nine tackles for loss rank third in the Pac-12, and his 5.5 sacks are tied for fourth in the conference. His two forced fumbles are tied for third in the league, too, and he has added one interception and six quarterback hurries for the 4-2 Bruins, who have the No. 2 defense in the Pac-12.


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