In summer of 2021, no one could get enough of then-junior linebacker Marist Liufau. He had flashes of success in camp, became the talk of the town and was seemingly unblockable. Then, his season ended before it could start. Liufau suffered a broken ankle midway through camp, ultimately keeping him from a season’s worth of play.
“I missed running around with my teammates,” he said. “I missed being out there with them. I felt not as involved because I couldn’t practice and play but I missed the people too.”
Now a senior, Liufau is back in full swing and racking up tackles left and right while stepping up as a leader for the defense. He’s third on the team with 42 tackles.
To start the season, Liufau eased back into football. He took about half the reps for each appearance but slowly worked his way back up through camp. In his time off the field, Liufau said he began to study the game a lot more and it put things back into perspective for him.
“Things can be taken away from you in an instant so being out here every day — I am just grateful to be out here every day I can,” Liufau said.
Out on the field now, Liufau has reclaimed what would have been his starting opportunity last year within the linebacker corps. Along with his 42 tackles, Liufau has notched 3.5 tackles for loss. Additionally, he’s assumed a role as an extra pass rusher. During Notre Dame’s confrontation with UNC, he brought enough pressure to force a sack. On Oct. 29, though, Liufau broke into the top tier of defensive statistics.
Against Syracuse, the Irish defense dominated and Liufau played a major role. With three tackles on the day, the crowning jewel in his Saturday afternoon came during the third quarter when he snagged an interception.
“It was awesome,” Liufau said. “It was my first one so it was really exciting and it was a good point in the game as well. Anything that helps your team makes you feel good.”
The pass from Syracuse backup quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson was tipped by junior defensive lineman Howard Cross. Liufau dove forward to make the catch once the ball was off course. The second Liufau came off the field he said he was thanking Cross.
“I don’t think I would’ve gotten it without the batted ball,” he said.
Liufau also said he knew how important any interception could be so it was exciting to be the one to reel one in.
“It’s a big change of momentum really. It gets everyone going, gets everyone’s hopes high and gives everyone energy,” he said.
Liufau and the Irish got a big win at Syracuse, but they knew they needed to carry that energy into the next weekend they prepared to take on Clemson.
“It was a great feeling to win away but we know this week is a new week,” Liufau said ahead of that Clemson matchup. “We emphasized that early on and we know that we have to earn a win on Saturday by our hard work in practice this week.”
In terms of taking on the higher-ranked opponent though, Liufau said the preparation remains the same.
“It’s always attack everything full speed and work our game plan,” he said. “Every opponent we respect. We prepare the same way for everyone. There’s always a high urgency around here every week.”
After missing a year, Liufau embraced the opportunity to play in big moments. Echoing sentiments from Freeman, he said “this is what you come to Notre Dame for” — to play in games like the Clemson one.
Despite facing major challenges like the Clemson offense and other difficult attacks, the linebacker said he isn’t too worried though, he trusts the defense to step up to the plate behind one mantra.
“Relentless. We like to pride ourselves on being relentless and attacking without stopping,” he said. “I think we’ve improved a lot since the beginning of the season and I’m really proud of the way we work every day.”
That mentality led to a stifling effort in that Clemson game, shutting out the Tigers for three quarters. As much as he is leading that relentless charge, Liufau said he is learning from the rest of the linebacker corps as well and relying on their continued communication both in-game and at practice.
“Going out there and doing what you’ve got to do even when you don’t feel like it is the main thing they’ve taught me,” he said. “[We’re] just working hard every day.”
Contact Mannion McGinley at email@example.com.