'I'm happy for him,' Marist Liufau says of Manti Te'o after Notre Dame great clears the air

Former Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o says after participating in Netflix's "Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist" documentary he's "healed from it all."

SOUTH BEND — Junior linebacker Marist Liufau followed the path of Manti Te’o from Hawaii’s Punahou High School to Notre Dame.

Even during a busy training camp, Liufau made time to watch the recent Netflix documentary, “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” and came away encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive public reaction to the revealing update on Te’o’s personal story.

“Oh, I’m happy for him,” Liufau said Tuesday evening after practice. “I know it was hard for him just to wait that long to tell his side of the story and get that message out. I think it just worked out perfectly in how the message got out to everyone else.”

Liufau, who watched the two-part documentary with his girlfriend, remains “really close” with former Notre Dame and Punahou wide receiver Robby Toma. Along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, Toma is interviewed extensively in the documentary about his close friend and former teammate.

When Liufau suffered a major right leg injury on the eve of the 2021 season, Te’o reached out with words of encouragement.

“Manti sent me a message when I got injured,” Liufau said. “It was really nice of him.”

As Te’o did more than a decade ago, Liufau has struggled at times with loneliness and assimilation being so far from home.

“It was really interesting just to see someone else coming from Hawaii and his story,” Liufau said. “It was just cool because I saw some clips of my high school and his transition to college, and I just compared it to mine.”

Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau (8) waves to fans during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Through his connections to the Te’o circle, Liufau said he “always kind of had an idea” about the true story behind one of the most widely covered tabloid events in sports history.

He said he hasn’t reached out yet to Te’o with his thoughts on the documentary – “I’m sure a lot of people did” – but said it is his hope that the 2012 Heisman Trophy runner-up might be honored at Notre Dame Stadium sometime this fall.  

Even though Notre Dame lost badly in the BCS Championship, this is the 10th anniversary of a 12-1 team that returned the Irish program to national prominence.

“Oh, yeah,” Liufau said. “For sure, that would be really cool. That would definitely be an electric environment. It’s always nice to have former players come back. It’s always a different energy when they come back.”

Styles Bowl:Family emotions will run high on Saturday night at Ohio State

Blast to the past

During preseason camp, Marcus Freeman wanted his players to get used to playing in any type of environment. For two of Notre Dame’s practice sessions, the Irish traveled to local high schools, South Bend Saint Joseph and Penn (Mishawaka). 

No media access. No sanctioned crowds. Just football. 

“I actually really enjoyed those practices,” sophomore starting quarterback Tyler Buchner said. “It felt like going away, and under the lights it sort of felt like to me going to play a high school game. For some reason that resonated with me a lot. I just enjoyed the vibes of going with your buddies, throwing your gear under the bus and going to go play a game.”

During the Saint Joe practice on Aug. 9, it became clear that Buchner was trending toward earning the starting quarterback position. He took most of the first-team reps over Drew Pyne, according to an eyewitness account. 

Senior offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson sprained his right foot during the Aug. 15 practice at Penn and is still trying to work his way back ahead of Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes. Freeman said Monday that Patterson was still questionable, but the hope was that he would be able to test his foot in practice this week.

An empty high school stadium that seats a few thousand spectators won’t replicate the zoo that Ohio Stadium, with a record crowd of 110,045 from 2016, will turn into Saturday night. Freeman’s point was to remind his players the only thing that matters is what happens in between the white lines, regardless of venue.

“I think it sort of prepared us for going on the road,” Buchner said. “Go operate in a different environment.”

Jayson Ademilola: 'We're the toughest'

It didn’t take long for Notre Dame senior defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola to ramp up the intensity for Saturday’s season opener.

Ademilola didn’t mince words when asked how the Irish defensive front would hold up against an Ohio State offensive line with an average size of 6-foot-5 and 317 pounds. That includes right tackle Dawand Jones (6-8, 359) of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.

“We all need to be on the same page,” Ademilola said. “Communication is higher. We know our strengths and (we) are going to play to our strengths. We feel like we’re the toughest, strongest, most bad--- (expletives) in the country.”

Of his 1,248 rushing yards last season, Ohio State sophomore running back TreVeyon Henderson recorded 63% of those after contact. In 2021, the Irish excelled against their two Big Ten opponents, holding Purdue and Wisconsin to a combined 135 rushing yards on 53 attempts (2.5-yard average). 

New Notre Dame defensive line coach Al Washington knows all about what Henderson brings to the table, having served as his primary recruiter while coaching Ohio State’s linebackers the past three seasons.

“Al did an unbelievable job when he was here,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Tuesday. “He’s a good friend of mine, and I have nothing but respect for him. He will have those guys charged up. Certainly, he knows a lot about this program, what we do. Definitely have to be aware of that and change things up.”

Day was a Boston College graduate assistant in 2003-04 during Washington’s run as a three-year starter on the Eagles’ defensive line. When Day returned to Chestnut Hill in 2013-14 as the offensive coordinator, Washington was coaching the running backs at his alma mater.

In addition, Day spent 2006 as wide receivers coach on Al Golden’s first staff at Temple. Golden was hired in February to run the Irish defense.

Washington also crossed paths with new Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye, hired away from UCLA this offseason, while Frye was in the same role at Boston College from 2013-17. Washington served in various roles at BC from 2012-16, including defensive line coach in his final season there.

Ademilola said Washington has kept his players’ attention on their own strengths rather than trying too hard to exploit his old team. 

“He made it all about us,” Ademilola said.  “We take care of what we need to do.”

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame for NDInsider.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino and follow Justin Frommer @JustinbFrommer.