Good things tend to happen when Notre Dame is affiliated with a Hawaiian linebacker or a four-star offensive tackle. Given Thursday included commitments from one of each, bringing the week’s tally of pledges to four, the Irish can consider their idle week a successful one.
Three-star linebacker Kahanu Kia (Punahou High School; Honolulu) follows in the footsteps of former high school teammate and current Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Marist Liufau as well as those of his former assistant coach and former Irish receiver Robby Toma rather than his father’s, a Utah defensive lineman from 1993-96. That decision alone was a hurdle for Kia, bypassing his childhood dream for the opportunity presented by Notre Dame, as well as turning down a strong chase from Stanford.
“It was kind of hard coming to grips with, ‘Dang, I’m not going to the place I always thought I was going to go to, my childhood dream school,’” Kia told Carter Karels of the South Bend Tribune. “But at the end of the day, it’s a business.”
Overcoming his Ute inclinations was undoubtedly harder in 2020 than any other year, since Irish recruiting coordinator Brian Polian could not make his patented trips to Hawaii to pull in another recruit as he did with Liufau, Toma, current freshman defensive end Jordan Botelho, senior defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, former star linebacker Manti Te’o and late, former defensive lineman Kona Schwenke. Nonetheless, Kia managed to visit South Bend to watch Notre Dame beat Clemson in person, though he could not meet with any coaches or tour any football facilities, per the extended recruiting dead period.
The second linebacker in the class, joining three-star Prince Kollie (David Crockett H.S.; Jonesborough, Tenn.), Kia (highlights at top) will not entirely allay coming linebacker concerns after the Irish did not sign any in the class of 2020. As a practicing member of The Church of Latter-Day Saints, Kia intends to serve a two-year mission after his freshman season. He will then return for the 2024 season as a sophomore, per the Tribune.
“For that first year, I’m not going to be thinking about the mission,” he said. “… I don’t want it to be, ‘I’m just going to leave on my mission and this year is kind of a waste.’ I want it to be a meaningful year where I can prove my worth before I go on my mission.”
Kia’s hard-hitting 6-foot-2 frame and instinctive pursuit would help compensate when juniors Bo Bauer, Jack Lamb and Shayne Simon begin matriculating out of the program, though the NCAA eligibility mulligan could convolute that exact timeline.
Four-star offensive tackle Caleb Johnson (Trinity Catholic; Ocala, Fla.) joined Kia’s Thursday decision later in the evening, flipping his commitment from Auburn, originally made in May. Notre Dame has now flipped three recruits from Power Five programs during this quick surge less than a month before December’s early signing period begins Dec. 16. Johnson (and Kia) bring the current Irish class of 2021 to 23 commits.
Assignment-sound and mobile with powerful arms, Johnson is the fifth offensive lineman in the class, joining five-star tackle Blake Fisher, four-star guard Rocco Spindler, and three-stars Joe Alt and Pat Coogan.
At 6-foot-7, Johnson should have a future setting the edge, though with rare exception (read: Robert Hainsey), that future is typically a few years out for an Irish tackle.