Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 24 of 55

BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM AUGUST 2022 25 He moved effortlessly through the warm-up drills, showing no signs that he had been through a gruesome injury just around seven months prior. The rising senior conversed with Free- man with an ear-to-ear grin clearly vis- ible under his face mask. If Liufau had any reservations about being ready to go, it didn't show. Nor was it evident when he spoke with the media a few days later. "It's great," Liufau said of his ankle without hesitation. "I'm 100 percent. I'm fully back." There will forever be a gap in Liufau's collegiate stat line, one which reads something to the effect of "2021: Did not play due to injury." But the season wasn't a waste. If it was, Liufau would not have exhibited the poise that he did on that cloudy March morning. Lessons were internalized, even if they didn't involve suiting up on game day. "I learned to appreciate the game," Liu- fau said. "I learned to take every day one by one because you never know when it could be taken from you. It definitely made me value being able to be at practice." Liufau pawned that wisdom off throughout his recovery as well. Soph- omore linebacker Prince Kollie was acutely aware of it because Liufau was somewhat of a rock for him during his freshman fall, beginning with being his roommate during camp. "It was good for me to see how he ad- justed that far from home and how he carried himself," Kollie said this spring of the Hawaii native. "I really focused on him. That's what Coach Freeman used to tell us, to watch the older guys. He was the one I really paid attention to, and it's been beneficial." LEARNING FROM THE PROS From the beginning of Freeman's time at the helm, the Notre Dame coaching staff wanted to make clear that Golden would not be overhauling the Irish de- fense. It was an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. But the most recent coach of the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals' line- backers brought with him nearly 30 years of coaching experience, and the defense was prepared to study up. "A lot of his tape is of Bengals guys," senior linebacker Jack Kiser said this spring. "With drill work, he uses the Bengals as an example. They're pros, they do everything right, and they've been coached the right way." Like a season on the sideline, the change at defensive coordinator brought another fresh perspective on the game. "The biggest changes are being more football smart and just knowing why I'm doing certain things, when to do certain things in terms of the defensive line, when they're moving, knowing of- fensive formations, what to do when we get a certain look from them," Liufau said when asked what he's learned from Golden. "Something that has impressed me is just how smart he is. How much he knows the game. "You can tell he's been around for a long time. He knows what he's doing." A TEACHING MOMENT What allows Liufau and his team- mates to absorb Golden's lessons quickly is the strong, Freeman-taught (and Clark Lea-taught) base with which they are working. "We set our foundation," Liufau said. "Even though we had a coach change, we still have our fundamentals like running to the ball, creating chaos, attacking the football. That's kept us really on track." The emphasis on attacking the foot- ball has become even more pronounced, as Golden prioritizes forcing turnovers. Liufau put that lesson to the test in the Blue-Gold Game April 23. When Irish quarterback Drew Pyne threw what was supposed to be a screen pass to Michael Mayer, the ball sailed over the tight end's head. For the sec- ond time in the first half of the annual scrimmage, Pyne was intercepted. The first pick came courtesy of linebacker Jordan Botelho, while the second was thanks to Liufau. "It's good to see [No.] 8 flying around," Freeman said after the game. "I've missed seeing him out there." But that wasn't all the first-year head coach had to say. After the intercep- tion, things went south near the Notre Dame sideline. Liufau began a celebra- tion dance, holding the ball in front of him while moving his hips left to right. A nearby official was not too thrilled with the celebration, and the referee let Freeman know about it. Freeman, in turn, spoke with Liufau, his face turning from excitement over his interception to a far more serious look. Message heard, loud and clear. "He has to make better decisions af- ter he makes an interception," Freeman said. "The referee made me aware of some antics he did, which that's learn- ing. I don't care if it's practice No. 15 or practice No. 1. You can't do things in practice that you don't do in the game." Technically, the spring game served as the 15th and final practice. Freeman turned it into a lesson for his entire team, even stating he wasn't just speak- ing about Liufau. "It was really good to see him make an interception and make a lot of plays, but we, as a football team have to continue to mature and understand that energy and excitement is one thing but hurting our football team is another," Freeman added, offering insight into his conver- sation with Liufau. That message was consistent with the theme of the spring, what Freeman re- fers to as "the gold standard." Be elite in everything you do. Absent the celebra- tion blip, Liufau was getting there on that warm Saturday in April. He finished the Blue-Gold Game with 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and the interception. Liufau will arrive for fall camp on Aug. 5 armed with two new perspec- tives — those gleaned from his injury and those gleaned from the new staff. He will need to put those lessons to the test from Day 1, especially if the Irish want to be serious contenders for a national championship. There is little room for errors like the one committed in the spring game. Notre Dame opens its season with Ohio State. But the senior will be ready. He's learned too much and worked too hard not to be. On Sept. 3, Liufau's redemption tour begins. ✦ "I learned to appreciate the game. I learned to take every day one by one because you never know when it could be taken from you. It definitely made me value being able to be at practice." LIUFAU ON BEING INJURED IN 2021

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - August 2022