UCLA’s Laiatu Latu becomes first Lombardi Award winner in school history

Laiatu Latu jumps toward Arizona State's Trenton Bourguet.
Laiatu Latu pressures Arizona State quarterback Trenton Bourguet earlier this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Rivalry week was here. Laiatu Latu’s focus did not waver when the UCLA edge rusher’s coach told him he was a finalist for the Lombardi Award, one of the most prestigious honors in college football and one that a Bruin had never won.

“I just want to win the game this week,” Latu told Chip Kelly, convincing his coach not to share the news with the team.

Later that week at the Coliseum, Latu sacked USC quarterback Caleb Williams on back-to-back plays in the third quarter, knocking the Trojans back from UCLA’s five-yard line to the 17. Instead of scoring a touchdown that could have gotten them back into the game, the Trojans were forced to kick a field goal in an eventual 38-20 defeat.


Latu won the game — and the award.

UCLA and USC combined to place three players on the All-Pac-12 first team. Caleb Williams, last year’s Heisman winner, earned honorable mention.

Dec. 5, 2023

Already the Pac-12 Conference’s defensive player of the year, Latu on Wednesday night added the Lombardi Award to his list of achievements. Latu becomes the first player in school history to win the award that goes to the college offensive lineman, tight end, defensive lineman or linebacker who embodies the character and discipline of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi while also exhibiting outstanding performance on the field.

Latu added to his holiday haul of honors Thursday when he was selected UCLA’s first winner of the Hendricks Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive end.

Four other UCLA players had previously been finalists for the Lombardi Award — Jerry Robinson in 1978, Jonathan Ogden in 1995, Dave Ball in 2003 and Anthony Barr in 2013. After leading the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.8) and ranking fourth in sacks per game (1.08), Latu beat out a list of fellow finalists that included Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt, Georgia tight end Brock Bowers and Utah defensive lineman Jonah Elliss.

It’s another storybook moment for a player who was forced to medically retire at Washington before transferring ahead of the 2022 season to UCLA, where Latu helped turn a middling defense into one of the nation’s best a year later.

Latu is also a finalist for the Bednarik Award that goes to the most outstanding defensive player and the LOTT Impact Award for the best defensive player.


Widely projected as a top pick in the 2024 NFL draft, Latu has another season of eligibility remaining but has not announced his intentions. Kelly said he had spoken with Latu about his decision and would also talk to Latu’s mother, Kerry, this week.