Notre Dame has key piece to Hawaiian pipeline in 2019 LB Marist Liufau

Staff reports
ND Insider

Days after committing to Notre Dame, Marist Liufau was offered an opportunity to go back on his word.

The 2019 outside linebacker’s Nov. 10 official visit to South Bend — and his verbal pledge four days later — did not dissuade the University of Utah. The Ute coaching staff reached out to Asai Gilman — Liufau’s trainer and father of ND safety Alohi Gilman.

Gilman, who Liufau calls “uncle,” approached the Honolulu Punahou product to ask if he made a hasty decision.

“To be really honest, uncle, it was Alohi and Myron (Tagovailoa-Amosa) that pushed me over,” Gilman recalled Liufau saying. “And I went, ‘Wow, why?’ He said, ‘Uncle, you know. This is a far place, Midwest. It is flipping cold. But just sitting in their room, being able to speak our language and eat the food that we like to eat, it just had the feeling of home …I want to be what they are and be like that.’”

The confidence in Liufau’s decision speaks to ND’s resurging Hawaiian pipeline, as well as the fingerprints special teams coordinator Brian Polian has along the islands.

Former Irish players and Polian recruits Manti Te’o and Robby Toma graduated from Punahou. Toma now serves as Punahou’s offensive coordinator. Alohi did not attend Punahou, but his younger brother, defensive back Alaka’i Gilman, just finished his junior season with the Buff n’ Blues.

The Irish failed to capitalize from Te’o’s success through recruiting on the islands. Polian left for the same job at the University of Stanford following the 2009 season. The late Kona Schwenke marks ND’s lone Hawaiian signee (2010) from Polian’s departure until 2016.

Polian rejoining ND’s staff in 2017, the emergence of Alohi, the potential of Tagovailoa-Amosa and Liufau’s commitment is a start to establishing a pipeline. The Irish are also targeting two more 2019 Polynesian players — four-stars Asa Turner and Enokk Vimahi.

Liufau’s first time to Indiana, like Te’o, was for his official visit. Both endured harsh, frigid weather conditions that initially deterred them.

A rendezvous with visit hosts Gilman and Tagovailoa-Amosa, though, made Liufau feel at home. It assured him, too. To observe a couple Hawaiian recruits blossom into legitimate Irish players allowed Liufau to envision similar success.

“They were definitely a big part of it — just showing me how they have come a long way from home and how successful they are right now,” Liufau said. “It is just inspiring how much hard work they have put in and how much sacrifice they made to get where they are today. I really look up to them a lot.”

For once, Liufau felt understood. 247Sports recently tabbed Liufau as a 6-foot-1, 175-pound cornerback. They now label him as a 6-3, 210-pound linebacker, while MaxPreps, Rivals and Hudl list him at 6-3, 195.

Even the corrected versions are wrong. The 6-2, 205-pounder rates as a three-star recruit, which frustrates Asai. Alohi’s father served as Punahou’s defensive backs coach before taking a hiatus this season. He still trains with Liufau each offseason through his DB Tech Academy, which usually lasts six months. Gilman teaches and polishes defensive back techniques.

“I don’t think they realize it, because they are so far away,” said Gilman of mainland recruiting analysts. “I don’t think people outside of our island, our state, recognize that this kid has a high potential for success beyond college just based on the athletic ability.”

Liufau played cornerback as a freshman before moving to safety the following season. He then transitioned to rover as a junior prior to his final switch to outside and middle linebacker. Liufau expects to tack on 20 or more pounds when he arrives to ND next summer and transitions to the buck linebacker position.

Rover remains a possibility, and Gilman said Liufau’s feet, “is a defensive back’s feet.” Liufau, a Samoan-American with some German descent, shares Gilman’s thoughts of disenfranchisement.

“In Hawaii, playing football kind of puts you under the radar unless you really get yourself out there and have the time to get yourself to those big camps, do well and compete,” Liufau said. “There are a lot of players under the radar here.”

Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, disagreed with the notion that Hawaiian players are undervalued due to distance from the mainland. Lemming, who has covered recruiting for decades and often has journeyed to Hawaii, said the emergence of Hudl and game footage ensure the recruits are not forgotten.

“Thirty years ago, that was true,” Lemming said. “But now, it is definitely not true at all … It is better to see them in person. But Hudl is the game. You cannot go to every game, so you’ve got to watch their game. When you watch their film, highlight clips can sometimes be misleading. But game footage is not. You watch the guy every single play.”

Gilman went in depth about another theory — the stereotype that Hawaiian football players are innately warriors and head hunters.

“They are not Fortnite, XBOX kind of guys,” Gilman said. “Innately, they are the park kind of guys. When they go to the park, they tell everybody, ‘I’m better than you. Let’s play a pickup game. I’m going to beat you.’ That’s the kind of guy that I think Marist is, because that’s how he rolls with my boys.”

Sefo Liufau, a former four-year starting quarterback at the University of Colorado and 2016 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year, is a first cousin to Marist. He recalled challenging Sefo and his older brother, Marcus, throughout childhood.

“Yeah, I think it definitely comes at a young age,” Liufau said. “That same dog mentality that so many coaches value in players. It starts at a really young age. Growing up in Hawaii, you have that chip on your shoulder.”

It’s something Gilman and Tagovailoa-Amosa might understand, which explains why Utah is seemingly an afterthought to Liufau. And why ND and Polian may have something to build upon.

“That’s so special to me — to be able to continue that Hawaii pipeline,” Liufau said.

Honolulu Punahou linebacker Marist Liufau (7), Notre Dame’s three-star 2019 commit, could play buck linebacker or rover for the Irish.