Punahou’s reputation at Notre Dame precedes Marist Liufau .
Fellow Buffanblu products Robby Toma and Manti Te’o both chose the Irish and starred in South Bend from 2009 to 2012. Most fans will remember Toma as a sure-handed receiver and Te’o as a clutch linebacker who finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up during his senior season. No defensive player has placed that high in the voting ever since.
“It’s an honor just being able to follow in their footsteps while creating my own path,” said Liufau, who signed his letter of intent in December. “Seeing what they were able to show — that Hawaii boys can do it over there, it’s an honor. I can’t wait to get up there.”
The 6-foot-2 Punahou senior was still a participant of signing day festivities on Wednesday morning at the Elks Club in Waikiki.
He wasn’t the only one at the Elks Lodge in Waikiki to celebrate his decision in a more pronounced manner. Buffanblu teammates Duke Clemens (UCLA) and Maninoa Tufono (USC) also partook in the ceremony after signing during the early period.
The delayed celebration seemed to be worth the wait. Liufau wore his ND cap proudly while numerous family members and friends draped him with leis before a series of photos.
“It’s special of course because my family gets to come and I get to be here with the rest of my boys from school,” Liufau said. “I really appreciate everyone for coming out.”
Liufau’s stellar play during his senior season earned him a spot on the Star-Advertiser All-State first team as a defensive utility player after manning the rover spot — a safety and linebacker hybrid — for the Buffanblu. He also won ILH defensive player of the year award, as voted on by coaches in the league.
It didn’t hurt his recruitment, either. Shortly after Punahou’s season ended, Liufau went on an official visit to South Bend in November. He was sold almost immediately.
“On my visit, I knew 100 percent that I wanted to go there,” he said. “Notre Dame is just a great overall school and great overall program. Everything about them from great education to life skills just sold me. It really helped with my decision.”
When Liufau arrives on campus, he won’t be the only islander on the roster. Kahuku’s Alohi Gilman emerged as an alpha defensively for the Irish in 2018 and looks primed for a big senior season in 2019. Gilman’s younger brother, Alaka’i, was also a teammate of Liufau’s at Punahou. The younger Gilman will be a senior for the Buffanblu this fall and already owns offers from Arizona State, Hawaii, Oregon, Oregon State and USC. There’s also Kapolei alum Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who suffered a broken right foot but was able to preserve a redshirt year since he only played in two games.
“I think it’ll help (the college transition) a ton, especially because I know them personally and just being able to have leaders and see how they’ve transitioned to Notre Dame from Hawaii,” Liufau said. “It’s gonna help me a lot.”
Up next for Liufau? An opportunity to compete for a Notre Dame team fresh off its first College Football Playoff berth. He might see some time at the rover in college as well, although he says Notre Dame’s coaching staff has visions of him competing at the BUCK linebacker spot.
When asked about those who came before him, Liufau speaks in admiration. The sentiment appears to be mutual. Toma is currently on the Punahou coaching staff and the two talk regularly, while Te’o gave Liufau a shout-out on Instagram when he committed.
One day, he hopes to join them and be another name remembered in Notre Dame lore.
“I’m super excited,” he said. “I know the competition there is gonna be great and it’s gonna make me a better football player and person overall.”