Tyler Luatua's versatility could boost Notre Dame

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

Four years ago, La Mirada (Paramount, Calif.) High School football coach Mike Moschetti saw enough talent, enough promise in incoming freshman Tyler Luatua that he decided to move the kid up to varsity.

Part of the indoctrination to high school football included the older players on the team toughening up the newbie, an extra shove or words of advice arriving to help get Luatua ready. And the lead guy in getting the youngster prepared for high school football was Isaac Luatua, then a high school senior and now a redshirt junior offensive lineman at Alabama.

“It was the typical older brother,'' Moschetti said. "You know how older brothers treat their younger brothers. He didn’t let up on him. And that’s what made Tyler the player that he is today.”

What Tyler Luatua is today is a true freshman on the ninth-ranked and 4-0 Notre Dame football team. He could become a little-noticed, but vitally important, member of an offense that is averaging 35 points per-game, but one that has yet to establish a consistent running game. And most figure that will be needed if the Irish are to entertain hopes of contending for a championship.

The gristle of the schedule greets the Irish Saturday when No. 14 Stanford visits. And with a running game that ranks a modest 75th nationally (158.8 yards per-game) knocking heads with the nation’s top-ranked defense (Stanford allows 198 yards per game), the Irish can ill-afford to rely strictly on the right arm of quarterback Everett Golson.

Yes, the Irish were able to overcome five turnovers against Syracuse, but they would be hard-pressed to escape Stanford with a similar total.

Irish coach Brian Kelly shuffled his offensive line last week, with mixed results. The Irish threw for 361 yards and ran for 161, but better balance would help keep the Cardinal from making the Irish one-dimensional. The offensive line gelling would go a long way toward helping the Irish meet that goal.

“But it's going to be a process for us. Look, we did it because we felt like it was an area that allowed us to grow, and so I think that what we saw in the first game together was that it validated the fact that this group will be able to grow together throughout the season,” Kelly said.

And that’s where Luatua, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound tight end/H-back could come in. He saw significant action early, and if he could deliver help as an effective blocker, the ND running game could benefit.

“You’ve got to come to the point with championship teams where it’s third-and-2 and third-and-3 and the other team’s going to know you’re running the ball and you have to run the ball to get first downs,” Moschetti said. “Just reading between the lines, Notre Dame’s shuffling their offensive line, they have to develop a better physicality with their run game and hopefully Tyler can help them with that.”

Without knowing exactly what Notre Dame’s scheme was against Syracuse, Moschetti saw some good and saw some bad from his former pupil in the 31-15 victory.

“Tyler brings a physical attitude toward that run game,'' he said. "What people need to realize is he’s still a young pup. He’s a freshman, but he’s only going to get better from here on out. It looked like he really, really got the feet wet last night (Saturday) and I’m sure in the coming weeks he’s going to have more and more confidence.”

Moschetti and his coaches saw enough in him coming out of grade school that they decided to move him up. In fact, well before Luatua even played a varsity down, college coaches saw enough in him that they wanted him for their program. During a stop by the La Mirada weight room prior to Luatua’s freshman year, a Hawaii coach spotted Luatua and offered him a scholarship.

Older brother Isaac already has won two national championships at Alabama. Tyler, a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com but a top-100 player according to CBS Sports Network analyst Tom Lemming, also visited Alabama. The Irish won out late in the cycle.

“Going into the whole recruiting process, he wanted to get a great degree, which Notre Dame has,” Moschetti said, “and he wanted to win a national championship, which Notre Dame can do.”

What made Luatua attractive to recruiters was a blend of power and athleticism that, in the eyes of Moschetti, isn’t overflowing in the high school ranks.

“When you look at tight ends around the country coming out of high school, with all these spread teams, you see a bunch of kids that are really athletic that don’t like to block,'' Moschetti said. "You find other kids that can just block that aren’t athletic. Tyler’s athletic enough and physical enough where you can split him out and you can keep him with his hand down.”

He’s also a guy who won’t, in Moschetti’s opinion, get down if there aren’t ''X'' amount of balls thrown his way. Luatua has played in all four games, but has yet to record his first reception.

“He’s not a prima donna at all, he doesn’t need the ball five times a game,” Moschetti said.

Moschetti used Luatua at defensive end, inside and outside linebacker, tight end, wide receiver and fullback at La Mirada. Now, with an offensive line that could use a kick start, you may see Luatua further serving as an H-back who carries the size of a small guard.

“He’s a really smart football player,” Moschetti said. “You can throw a lot at him.”

Freshman tight end Tyler Luatua could provide a boost to the Notre Dame run game with his blocking. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)