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Laiatu Latu joins Colts' defensive line coming off a historic season

Despite being told by doctors he'd never play football again in 2021, Latu said he set out to prove naysayers wrong.

The first defensive player taken in the 2024 NFL Draft, UCLA's Laiatu Latu joins a Colts' defensive line that is coming off of a historic season.

"I wasn't even expecting to get picked up by the Colts honestly," Latu said. "I didn't talk to them my whole pre-draft. Then that phone call came from Indianapolis and I was just like, 'Dang' because my agent told me not to worry about the next couple of picks and then I get the phone and I'm a Colt."

However, during the draft process, he'd coincidentally made a connection with Colts' defensive end, Kwity Paye, while working with well-renowned defensive line coach, Eddy McGilvra.

"I've been able to train with him (Kwity Paye) and Coach Eddy and just learn a lot from him and take after him," Latu said. "Yesterday, I had asked about his vitamin supplement plan. So, he put me on that.

"I just can't wait to get in the building. I look up to a lot of those dudes and I want to show him what I can do as well."

Though the two had developed a bond over the few months, Latu said it'd never crossed his mind that they could possibly play with one another.

"Just being able to know that he's over there and I know him and just the comfortability, it's a big piece for me," Latu said. "Being able to pick up little tips and tendencies from him, how the program works and how everything goes - I think that's a real big upside for me."

Latu will get his chance soon after the Colts drafted him with their No. 15 pick.

Having told reporters at the Senior Bowl that his goal was to be the first edge rusher off the board, being the first defensive player taken made Latu even more excited to get to work.

"It means the world to me," Latu said. "I just can't wait to get in the building and just prove that."

Check out photos of Colts draft pick Laiatu Latu at the 2024 NFL Draft in Detroit.

Latu's college career began in 2019 when he played for the University of Washington.

However, a neck fusion surgery in 2020 nearly ended his career because Washington's doctors wouldn't clear him to play.

"It was COVID and it was just a funky time," Latu said. "It just wasn't handled in the right way. I didn't have any physical examinations with any doctors at that time. So, it was really just an opinion of somebody's without even looking at my physical (or) without giving me tests and stuff like that. So I mean, I feel like they were just doing what they felt best, but at the same time, I feel like it wasn't really handled in the best way."

Latu missed the 2020 and 2021 seasons before transferring to UCLA in 2022.

In his two seasons with the Bruins, he made an instant impact notching 85 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 23.5 sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles.

He gained national attention in 2023 when he led the nation in tackles for loss (22) and led the Pac-12 in sacks (13). His production earned him All-American honors and the distinction of being named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

"That whole time, I really just grinded to prove to all those people who told me I wouldn't play again, that I can do it again," Latu said. "I know myself, I trusted myself and I trust in the Lord and I know he got a plan for me."

Though Latu had impressed teams with his on-field production questions he still had to answer questions about his injury history during the pre-draft process.

"Throughout this whole time period, it's just a bunch of poking and prodding at the medicals and stuff like that," Latu said. "A lot of teams knew my character and stuff like that, but I mean the medicals - they just had to make sure they ticked off."

Latu joins a Colts' defensive line that accounted for 46 of the team's 51 sacks in 2023, which set a new Indianapolis-era franchise record.

The Colts bolstered their defensive line on Thursday night with a menacing pass rusher and run defender, selecting UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

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