In summer of 2021, no one could get enough of then junior linebacker Marist Liufau. He had flashes of 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.
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. He has been instrumental to the success of the Irish defense recording 32 tackles on the season, 12 of them alone and three 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. For the first time on Saturday 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.
The Irish are looking to carry that energy into this weekend as they prepare to take on Clemson this Saturday.
“It was a great feeling to win away but we know this week is a new week,” Liufau said. “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 says 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.”
Liufau says he’s excited to play in a physical game like this on Saturday. Echoing sentiments from Freeman earlier in the week, he said “this is what you come to Notre Dame for” — to play in games like this one.
That being said, he also acknowledged the tall order that is the Clemson Tigers.
“They’re a very good offense,” he said. “They have a great quarterback, good running back, and threats at wide receiver as well. They’ve just got a lot of weapons all around.”
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.”
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.