Notre Dame and Niuafe Tuihalamaka just needed to wait for the pandemic-induced dead period to end. The Irish offered the consensus four-star linebacker a scholarship back in January, and it immediately resonated, with Tuihalamaka (Bishop Alemany High School; Mission Hills, Calif.) de-committing from USC two days later after making that initial pledge nearly a year earlier.
But he waited to visit South Bend last weekend before making his decision, choosing Notre Dame over Texas, Stanford and Arizona State on Saturday afternoon. Tuihalamaka also held offers from more than half the Pac 12, LSU and Penn State.
“If I’m honest, I knew a week or two after I got my offer from Notre Dame,” Tuihalamaka said to Blue & Gold Illustrated.
At the time of his Trojan de-commitment, Tuihalamaka cited the expediency of his initial pledge as the reason for his reconsideration.
“We’ve been talking if I had made the right decision and we came to the decision that I pushed the process too quickly,” he said to rivals.com. “I wanted to go through the process a little bit more of my recruitment and make sure I definitely made the right decision on where I go to the next level.”
— Niuafe Junior Tuihalamaka (@JuniorNiuafe) June 14, 2021
Committing in the winter of his sophomore year may have laid the groundwork for resuming the entire process, but Notre Dame’s and new Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman‘s pursuit also spurred Tuihalamaka.
“It gave me thoughts of opening my recruitment also,” he said. “Mainly, it was a family decision not way before Notre Dame, but Notre Dame was part of the decision also.”
Offering the No. 144 player in the country, per rivals.com, and No. 5 inside linebacker was one of Freeman’s first moves after joining the Irish. He has now secured commitments from five consensus four-star defenders.
That exhaustive search and extensive offer list, despite Tuihalamaka’s junior season being delayed to the spring due to the pandemic, comes because as a sophomore, he already had a frame ready for the next level. Crediting a player for “[something impressive] as only a sophomore” can come across as back-handed, but the real intention is to illustrate the starting point for development to come. Already decisive, Tuihalamaka spends most of his time in the box, but he is quick enough to get outside the hash marks.
At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he has the athleticism to match the frame, best showcased in his comfort in coverage.
Tuihalamaka is the 15th commit in the class of 2022 and the eighth defender, led by consensus four-star defensive end Tyson Ford (John Burroughs School; St. Louis), the No. 91 recruit in the class of 2022 and the first notice of Freeman’s quick and impressive recruiting showing.
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