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Utahns In The NFL: Former Ute star Sealver Siliga shines for playoff bound Pats

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When Sealver Siliga left the Utah Utes football program as a junior in 2010 he turned more heads than Kate Upton at a convention for men. People wondered why Siliga, who clearly hadn't reached his potential as a Ute (he won honorable mention all-Mountain West Conference honors twice), would leave school so early. Especially when NFL Draft experts -- and his own coach -- advised it wasn't a good idea. In his third year in the NFL Siliga has finally found a home on the New England Patriots defense after bouncing around several teams. He has played in five games this year, starting four, and forced a fumble on Sunday, December 29 in the Pats 34-20 win over Buffalo.

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Siliga has 23 tackles and three sacks, in this, his most productive year as a professional player. His next game will be in the NFL Divisional Playoffs, a long, loong way from starting his football career in the sleepy town of West Jordan, Utah.

However, Siliga's road to becoming an NFL starter has taken more time than maybe even he expected.

From the time he shocked his Utah Utes team by declaring early for the 2011 NFL Draft -- this unrated defensive tackle went un-drafted and was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent -- where he stayed until September of that year.

The Denver Broncos signed him to the practice squad in October 2011 where he remained until August 2013, appearing in just one game in his Broncos career -- then he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for offensive lineman John Moffitt.

Once in Seattle, Siliga seemed to be the bane of all confusion. He was even released for three days, then picked up again by the Seahawks who put him on their practice squad, where he stuck until he was released again on October 23. New England signed the free agent to its practice squad -- and Sealver finally made an NFL team's active 53-man roster on November 27.

He had finally, emphatically, made an impression on someone, some team, in the National Football League. The scary part is, he's only 23 years old.

Come to think of it, from little league football on up to the pros, Siliga has always done everything the opposite of his cohorts.

Even out of Copper Hills High School in West Jordan Siliga went against the grain, choosing to stay and play for a woeful team coached by a former Ute defensive tackle -- instead of playing at either West Jordan or Bingham, both state football powers.

I should know, because as a matter of disclosure I covered Copper Hills as a sports reporter at the West Jordan Journal and the decision Siliga made to stick it out with the Grizzlies was a big one, a difference between staying home for the state playoffs and having a chance to win a title.

Bright, jovial and always quick with a joke, Siliga was nonplussed by buddies like current Ute running back Harvey Langi, who played at Bingham and left Copper Hills' boundaries in junior high school to play for the Miners.

When the time came to choose a college, Siliga decided to go where his coach played -- despite committing to BYU initially.

At Utah he never quite lived up to the hype, gaining honorable mention honors as a sophomore and junior while his Utes busted the BCS as a member of the Mountain West Conference.

So much for ideas of mice, men, Coach Whit and Mel Kiper Jr. -- all Siliga has done is proven they were all incorrect in assuming he couldn't play at the next level.

As the NFL Playoffs come into focus and Week 17 is firmly behind us it's great to see that hard work does pay off for someone like Siliga who never followed the status quo and went in his own direction -- even if that meant there were a few bumps in his road to the pros.

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