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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit


Listed measurements: 6-foot-2, 229 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: An early-enrolled freshman, Tuihalamaka has all four seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: A year ago, Notre Dame flailed for linebacker depth. Now, it should have enough to keep the heralded freshman recruiting class off the two-deep, with fifth-year Bo Bauer and senior JD Bertrand both likely ahead of Tuihalamaka at middle (Mike) linebacker.Recruiting: Tuihalamaka committed to USC before the pandemic curtailed all recruiting, and that pledge held up for nearly a year. Then the Irish offered the southern California product a scholarship, and he quickly re-opened his recruitment, but Tuihalamaka did not commit to Notre Dame for months afterward, waiting until he could at least visit South Bend.

Once that occurred in June of 2021, shortly after the pandemic-induced recruiting dead period ended, Tuihalamaka committed to the Irish over Texas, Stanford and Arizona State, while also holding offers from more than half the Pac 12, LSU and Penn State.

The No. 8 inside linebacker in the class and No. 206 overall prospect, per, he was the third linebacker to join Marcus Freeman’s recruiting class in Freeman’s sole cycle as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

It is a testament both to Tuihalamaka’s southern California roots and his broad talent that he was an example cited by Freeman when discussing the types of players the Irish need to pursue more aggressively.

“I don’t know if (linebacker) Jaylen Sneed and some of those guys were just dying to come to Notre Dame until you could explain to them, ‘Hey, here’s really what Notre Dame can do for you,’” Freeman said in December. “‘Hey Junior (Tuihalamaka), here’s the things that Notre Dame can do for you that will change the rest of your life.’

“So, to me, that’s the ability to just try to get into their head. ‘How can I communicate this so they can see what makes Notre Dame different?’”

Someone needs to replace Troy Polamalu in those Head & Shoulders commercials, right?

“Tuihalamaka has had a college-ready frame since he was a sophomore in high school, yet he also has the athleticism to handle some work in coverage. …

“With current freshman Kahuna Kia still expected to take a two-year mission, a hole will open in the depth chart behind Bertrand. Tuihalamaka’s body will be ready for that responsibility sooner than most underclassmen.”

Tuihalamaka’s early enrollment paid more dividends than it does for most, allowing him to take a bounty of second-string snaps at middle linebacker behind Bauer while Bertrand recovered from a wrist injury. And Tuihalamaka impressed in those opportunities.

Just not enough to suggest he will leapfrog either of the veterans.

Instead, Tuihalamaka will likely find a situational role on defense, lessening Bauer’s and Bertrand’s workload while also allowing him to focus on one niche skill. It could be blitzing or perhaps dropping into coverage on a running back. Former Irish linebacker Shayne Simon first shined in a goal-line package alone. Whatever it is, Tuihalamaka made it clear this spring, he has the physicality and speed to handle it.

Along with that, expect Tuihalamaka to cover just about every single Notre Dame kickoff this season. That alone could net him 8-10 tackles.

Bauer’s record-setting career will conclude in 2022, leaving Tuihalamaka to insure Bertrand does not get worn down by a bevy of snaps. And then Bertrand’s career should wrap up in 2023.

Tuihalamaka’s path to playing time and subsequently a starting role is that clear. This spring made it apparent he is not about to be physically overwhelmed, quite a statement from a player that should have been worrying about his high school civics final.

RELATED READING: Former USC pledge, linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka commits to Notre Dame
Inside the unique background of Niuafe Tuihalamaka

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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