Notre Dame confident in plan for signee Marist Liufau

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

The headline last week on omitted some important details.

“USC highly interested in committed DB from Hawaii,” it read on the independent website that covers USC sports.

The “DB from Hawaii” meant Marist Liufau, a three-star recruit who signed a National Letter of Intent with Notre Dame on Dec. 19, the first day of the early signing period.

Scott Schrader’s post on Trojan Insider did not include a lot of details, but it indicated that USC wanted to poach Liufau from Notre Dame’s class and believed it could be possible because Liufau was on track for a “grayshirt” at ND.

“Notre Dame doesn’t have a spot for him in August; SC does,” Schrader wrote. “Today there are folks trying to make the flip happen if possible.”

Except, a flip is not currently possible. And Liufau is not certain to grayshirt, and ND could end up having room for him in 2019. In fact, it expects to.

According to the NCAA and NLI rules, other programs are prohibited from recruiting a prospect who has signed an NLI. Doing so would qualify as an NCAA violation.

The Irish expect Liufau to join the team in June. However, Liufau said last week that remains up in the air. With ND tight on scholarship numbers, backup plans have been discussed. That does not mean ND would be ready to describe Liufau as a potential grayshirt, the result of a program deferring the enrollment of a recruit until a later semester.

Grayshirting, in essence, delays enrollment until a scholarship becomes available. It allows programs to count players toward the following recruiting class all in the interest of meeting the NCAA scholarship limit of 85. The practice has not occurred at ND under head coach Brian Kelly.

“He signed a scholarship and we expect him to be a part of the Notre Dame family,” recruiting coordinator Brian Polian told ND Insider/South Bend Tribune last week.

A backup plan is in place for Liufau to delay his enrollment if joining in June can’t work. That plan was discussed with Liufau before he committed and signed with ND, though he did not disclose specifics.

“There has never been any gray area between Notre Dame and this family. None,” Polian said. “There has been nothing but transparency and honesty in his recruitment.”

Liufau, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, was among 21 players to sign an NLI with ND on Dec. 19. Ten of those players have already enrolled for the spring semester with the others expected to enroll in June.

Liufau will likely begin his Irish career as a rover before transitioning into buck linebacker. 247Sports ranks Liufau as the No. 31 outside linebacker in the 2019 class. Rivals tabs him as the No. 36 outside linebacker.

The addition of the December signees to the current roster bumps ND to 88 scholarship players. The Irish are hoping to add Concord (Calif.) De La Salle defensive end Isaiah Foskey and Carlsbad (Calif.) High linebacker Asa Turner on the Feb. 6 National Signing Day.

The Irish do not have to meet the NCAA’s 85-scholarship limit until the first day of fall classes. ND typically falls under the number. Last season they were right at 85, despite signing 27 players in the 2018 class.

Kelly’s philosophy in the last recruiting cycle shifted away from providing a comfortable cushion in the numbers game, which often played to ND’s disadvantage.

“We’ve been more aggressive this year with that,” Kelly said in December 2017 after announcing the addition of 20 players in the early signing period. “I never feel really comfortable with it. To be quite honest with you, but I’ve had to get over that.”

The National Letter of Intent website stipulates that a player could file for his NLI to be declared null and void. Filing goes through the university’s compliance office, and it can be for a variety of reasons, including delayed enrollment.

A recruit asked to delay his enrollment would be eligible to appeal, if he chooses, by the first day of fall-semester classes. Only after that could another school be involved in recruiting him.

“If the delayed enrollment is agreed upon by the signee and the signing institution, the NLI would remain binding,” said Susan Peal, the NCAA’s director of governance for the National Letter of Intent. “If the signee changes his mind later, he should then submit an NLI release request.”

Still, that would require a major change of heart for Liufau. USC was recruiting Liufau before ND pushed for him with the contingency conditions in place. He still chose the Irish.

“I don’t know much about it, but I just know that I’m going to be (at Notre Dame) for sure,” Liufau told ND Insider/SBT. “My decision is locked in, and I’m fully committed there.”

Three-star recruit Marist Liufau, who signed with Notre Dame in December, could play buck linebacker or rover for the Irish.