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Idaho star guard Iupati is no couch potato

In the past, the Idaho Vandals were an afterthought for NFL scouts visiting the Potato State, where Boise was the place to be.

Mike Iupati changed that. The Idaho guard, who visited the Steelers earlier this month and figures to be a first-round pick in Thursday's NFL Draft, was the No. 1 target of scouts ahead of the Boise State Broncos players who compete on the blue field.

The 6-foot-5, 331-pound Iupati (pronounced ee-YOU-PAH-tee) was a consensus All-American who did not allow a sack in 2009 while grading out 90 percent or better in all 13 games, including Idaho's 43-42 win over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl.

His talents are so plentiful that while he's played guard his entire career, some NFL clubs vision him eventually as a tackle, maybe even on the left side.

Why then did this powerhouse from Anaheim, Calif., elude the big West Coast powers and wind up in Moscow, the one in Idaho?

"My high school mainly focused on students graduating from high school, so I didn't get very much help from my counselors," explained Iupati, whose family moved to California from Samoa when he was 14. "I was a non-qualifier from high school because I took the wrong classes, so I decided to go to a junior college."

But while he was attending a barbecue function at his intended, Cerritos Junior College, Idaho coaches offered him an opportunity to walk-on if his parents paid for his first year.

"I refused it, but my parents took out a loan and paid for my first year," said Iupati, who spent that first year focusing on speaking English, which was not his native tongue.

He became a starter as a redshirt sophomore in 2007 and missed some time after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2008 before blossoming in 2009.

Soon, he will be in position to pay off that loan with plenty of interest.

"My family decided they wanted us to have a good education," he said of the move from Samoa. "They sacrificed a lot of stuff because we were very well off. But coming to the U.S. it was very difficult financially."

The family with three kids moved into his aunt's garage in Anaheim for one year.

"Then my parents both had jobs and were able to support us financially so we moved to a small apartment in Anaheim and lived there paycheck to paycheck," he said. "It's been hard. That's why I always take advantage of every little opportunity I get, just try to seize the moment so I can have a better future for myself and my family."

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