Three-star defensive end Devin Aupiu went from being a USC football fan to liking the two biggest rivals of the Trojans.
The Oxnard (Calif.) Pacifica High product has been verbally committed to UCLA since pledging to the Bruins in April. But Notre Dame recently emerged as the biggest threat to flip Aupiu’s commitment.
In June 2019, Aupiu received his first Division I scholarship offer from USC. He said he nearly committed that week before deciding to slow down his recruitment.
“I never thought this would happen,” Aupiu said. “I took my time to get to know each individual school. Then I broke it down. With UCLA, I committed. Then Notre Dame popped up.”
The Irish coaching staff first contacted Aupiu last month and offered him a couple weeks ago. There is optimism they will garner his commitment no later than the three-day early signing period, which begins on Dec. 16. He plans to enroll a semester early in January no matter which school he picks.
By adding Aupiu, Notre Dame would come closer to securing a top 10 recruiting class in the 2021 cycle. The 23-player Irish class ranks No. 7 and No. 10 nationally on 247Sports and Rivals, respectively. 247Sports ranks Aupiu as its No. 30 outside linebacker and No. 409 overall player this cycle, while Rivals pegs him as its No. 40 defensive end.
“How it’s so similar to UCLA, academics and everything,” said Aupiu on what interests him about Notre Dame. “And also the culture there is different. There also are other schools that have those aspects but don’t have them both together. I see Notre Dame as a full package with academics, athletics and amazing football culture.”
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Aupiu is being recruited to play vyper, the defensive end position currently manned by starting graduate senior Daelin Hayes. Aupiu brings a versatile skill set, though, and could play multiple positions.
In 16 games as a junior, Aupiu recorded 62 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 22 quarterback hurries, 11 sacks, 12 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a blocked punt. Pacifica’s upcoming football season does not start until the spring because of COVID-19. So enrolling early means Aupiu will miss out on his senior football season.
Over the past several months, Eddy McGilvra helped prepare Aupiu. McGilvra trains high school, college and NFL defensive linemen as a co-owner at Future Elite Academy. Green Bay Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark and Indianapolis Colts defensive Cassius Marsh are among McGilvra’s most notable clients.
“The biggest thing is that he’s not stuck in a box with his position,” McGilvra said. “Devin can really go anywhere on the field and have success. He could damn near play tight end. He’s a freak athlete. Great hands, he understands both sides of the ball and he is definitely not scared of a challenge. They are going to find a hard time getting him off the field. He can play all the special teams, he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 and he can play defensive end in a 4-3. He’s very versatile.”
Playing vyper appeals to Aupiu. He learned more about the position from watching several games this season. He also scoured YouTube to watch videos of Notre Dame traditions like the Friday pep rallies. Then he connected with multiple Notre Dame graduates from California to hear about their experiences.
Interacting with Irish pledges like defensive end Jason Onye and offense tackle Blake Fisher also helps Aupiu.
“They make me feel welcome,” Aupiu said, “which is another reason why I like Notre Dame. They have a really good recruiting class coming in, so the future of the program will be really strong.”
Three other defensive linemen in the 2021 cycle are committed to Notre Dame: defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio and defensive ends Will Schweitzer and Onye. The Irish landed a pledge from 2021 defensive end David Abiara in March, but he decommitted last month. They also pursued Oklahoma defensive end commit Kelvin Gilliam, but he’s expected to sign with the Sooners.
Notre Dame is still looking to add recruits at other positions in this class. Running backs Donovan Edwards, Audric Estime and Byron Cardwell, wide receiver Keagan Johnson and cornerback Ceyair Wright are among 2021 recruits hearing from the Irish coaching staff. Wright is visiting South Bend over the weekend.
As he prepares to announce his final decision, Aupiu will weigh the pros and cons when comparing Notre Dame and UCLA. He said both schools have high-quality academics, Notre Dame brings the better football and UCLA has a more favorable location.
Distance is not expected to be a deal-breaker for Aupiu anymore, however. Until recently, Aupiu struggled with the idea of moving away from the West Coast. He said his Samoan roots helps inspire him to be loyal to his family and culture.
What Notre Dame offers, Aupiu said, could help him navigate through that challenge.
“I’m a huge family guy, but then again, I’ve got to do what is best for me as an opportunity,” Aupiu said. “The distance won’t play a huge factor, because I’d still play at least one game in California. My family can also fly out for a game or two. Or I can fly them out with some of my own money.”