Notre Dame Football: Carving out the Hawaiian Recruiting Pipeline

The Hawaiian Islands are full of football talent, which has largely been untapped. Now, Notre Dame football has the chance to blow the pipeline open.

Hawaii is as isolated as a string of islands, state, nation of people, or football player can be. It’s without a doubt that isolation that has held the Hawai’i Warriors back as a program, historically. It’s also kept their best football players hidden behind the veil of secrecy. In the past, only teams who frequently made trips to the Hawaiian Islands had the opportunity to recruit those great players. That’s how programs like BYU ended up with deep rooted recruiting pipelines in the islands.

A lot of why Hawaiian players were kept a secret, was it was just too difficult to recruit Hawaii. Recruiting trips were expensive, no one knew the local coaches, and reliable film was hard to come by of players. The modern era has changed that. Travel is easier, if you need to go to Hawaii itself, but you may not need to. Coaches can video chat and text recruits with ease. Film is everywhere, and easily shareable.

Now, that pipeline has opened up beyond west coast rivals of the Rainbow Warriors. The secrets out. Everyone knows that great players are out there and are they interested in playing on the mainland.

Think about some of the names who came to the mainland. Marcus Mariota, Tua Tagovailoa, McKenzie Milton, Jordan Iosefa, Bradlee Anae, Max Unger, and Matt Blair to name just a few. Even the most important player of the Brian Kelly era (albeit not recruited by Kelly) came from Hawaii-Manti Te’o.

Notre Dame football

SOUTH BEND, IN – SEPTEMBER 08: Manti Te’o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish awaits the snap against the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium on September 8, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Purdue 21-17. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Te’o was one of the most important recruits, and ultimately players, in Notre Dame history. He was also a key piece in establishing a future pipeline of talent from the state of Hawaii to Notre Dame. The reality is that players go where they tend to know people. Coaches tend to recruit areas they know. This is how, generally along with the school’s geography, a recruiting pipeline is formed. A good example is UCF. Their quarterback, McKenzie Milton was recruited by Scott Frost from a camp run by Oregon. Milton went to that camp because he wanted to be like Marcus Mariota. Things didn’t work out, so he did the next best thing, and followed Mariota’s offensive coordinator to Orlando. The current starter at UCF, Dillon Gabriel, went to the same high school as Milton and UCF and Gabriel found each other through Milton. That’s how a pipeline is built.

In recent years, Notre Dame has continued to establish its pipeline in the Hawaiian Islands. Alohi Gilman and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa were both standouts on the team last season. This season, Tavovailoa-Amosa will be a key leader on the Irish roster, while Gilman may be looking at early playing time in the NFL with the injury to Chargers’ safety Derwin James.

Kelly and company are pressing to keep the pipeline alive, and even expand it. In June, they offered a scholarship to Tevarua Tafiti. Tafiti is a star linebacker in the 2022 class. Along with Notre Dame, Tafiti is getting interest from Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, and a bevy of other programs.

Marist Liufau came to Notre Dame, again at linebacker from the 2019 class. He hasn’t seen much playing time, as he transitioned to Notre Dame, but that could change if depth is tested this year at linebacker. A year later, in the class of 2020, Notre Dame added an edge rusher from the Hawaiian Islands, Jordan Botelho. Botelho comes to Notre Dame incredibly well regarded, and expected to be a long time contributor on defense.

Just last week Titus Mokiao-Atimalala announced Notre Dame was in his final 10 schools of consideration. In fact, 24/7 Sports has Notre Dame predicted to land Mokao-Atimalala in their crystal ball predictions. He’d be an important, 4-star, wide receiver to land for Kelly and the Irish.

Mokiao-Atimalala isn’t the only Hawaiian Notre Dame is after in the 2021 class either, as they offered Kahanu Kia just a week ago. Kia is a 3-star linebacker, who said he was speechless to receive an offer from Notre Dame, and had wanted to go there since he was a kid. Kia was actually coached by Robby Toma and is best friends with Alohi Gilman’s brother.

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The list of connections between Notre Dame and Hawaii continues to grow, and in players like Kia it is clear that the connection means something to them. He’s a linebacker who grew up watching Manti Te’o. He has the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. There is a familiarity that will expand this pipeline for the Irish, and let Notre Dame take full advantage of the glut of talent in the Hawaiian Islands.