Notre Dame picked up a huge commitment on Saturday afternoon when 4-star linebacker Niuafe “Junior” Tuihalamaka selected the Irish over Texas. The commitment gives Notre Dame three 4-star linebackers already in its class of 2022 with a high likelihood of adding another for what would be an incredible haul of linebackers for Marcus Freeman on his first year on the job.
When Marcus Freeman came onto the job earlier this year, Notre Dame had one commitment at linebacker – Nolan Ziegler. At the time, Ziegler was a 3-star recruit, but has since been elevate to 4-stars and looks like he is still very much an ascending player. What Freeman was able to add at the position, has been nothing short of incredible.
Notre Dame added a legit MIKE with Junior Tuihalamaka – a player who patterns himself after his favorite player growing up – Manti Te’o. The Hawaiian Hitman’s ridiculous Irish career and 2nd place Heisman finish was definitely a factor in Tuihalamaka’s recruitment, but the job that Freeman did can’t be undersold. When Freeman was hired, Tuihalamaka was committed to USC. Shortly after Notre Dame offered, he decommitted, and ever since it’s felt only like a matter of time until he joined the class.
While this wasn’t as much of a coup as it was for Brian Polian and Charlie Weis to lure a shy kid from Hawaii to South Bend, Indiana; it was still an impressive recruiting win for the Irish and Freeman. It’s not the first such effort by Freeman, and it won’t be the last. Everyone thought Joshua Burnham was headed to Michigan until Freeman got involved. Now we and Tuihalamaka are part of a special linebacker class along with Ziegler.
With three linebackers already committed, there is still one more big-time backer in Notre Dame’s sights – Jaylen Sneed. The South Carolina native visited Notre Dame earlier this week and all signs are pointing to him joining the Irish trio already committed. Sneed visited Oregon before Notre Dame and there was a very fleeting feeling of optimism from the Oregon side, but the Irish are believed to be firmly in the driver’s seat again. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he popped for Notre Dame at any time.
Notre Dame’s linebacker recruiting is going so well that Sebastian Cheeks ended up not visiting Notre Dame this weekend as originally planned. Cheeks had long been linked to Notre Dame, but over the last few months the momentum building for Tuihalamaka and Sneed made Cheeks’s decision seem inevitable.
Should Sneed commit to Notre Dame as expected, this would be, hands down, the best linebacker class since we’ve been covering Notre Dame football. Rankings wise, the Asmar Bilal, Josh Barajas, Tevon Coney featured three top 250 caliber players, but this class could have three top 100 caliber players plus a top 250 backer before all is said and done.
Clark Lea did a very good job at developing and recruiting linebacker talent during his time at Notre Dame. It looks like Marcus Freeman is not only picking up right where Lea left off, but elevating the talent coming in at the position even more. It all still needs to translate on the field – and as the previously mentioned highly rated class of Barajas/Bilal/Coney showed us, rankings don’t always lead to success – but this is an extremely promising sign for the direction of the talent level of the roster as a whole.