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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Orange Lutheran Trio Excited By Notre Dame Offers

May 21, 2023

Expect Notre Dame to have a consistent presence at Orange Lutheran High School after extending offers to three underclassmen at the school earlier this month.

The Irish offered 2025 tight end Aaron Ia‍ as well as 2026 offensive lineman Samuelu Utu‍ and 2026 linebacker Talanoa Ili‍.

Orange Lutheran assistant Chris Ward believes the Irish made smart calls on all three.

“All three of those guys, they're incredible humans just in general; very mild-mannered,” Ward says. “If you met them off the field, you'd be like, 'There's no way this guy plays football.’”

He says Utu is currently 6-5 and over 300 pounds, but “looks 280.”

Ward says he has plenty of room to continue adding weight “and he is not going to lose a step because of it.”

That has to be scary for opposing linemen given what Ward has seen from the youngster.

“I think his intent off the line of scrimmage is very rare for an offensive lineman, let alone a freshman,” says Ward. “If you watch his tape, he's the first one out of his stance. I think that helps him play with violence.”

Utu won’t just get bigger, he’ll get better as he continues to learn the game, according to Ward, who is his position coach.

“Last year, I think you just told him what to do and he did it,” says Ward. “But he didn't always understand what was going on behind him or what other people were supposed to do, other people's responsibilities.

“Now he's been able to kind of understand, 'OK, so it's this play. This is happening. This is what everyone else is doing and this is why.' It helps him get a better grasp of everyone's responsibilities.

Utu, who also has offers from schools like USC, Michigan, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado and Tennessee, among others, told Irish Sports Daily the offer from the Irish was huge for him and Ward confirms that.

“He loved it,” Ward says. “I didn't know this about him, but I guess his mom was a big Notre Dame fan growing up. So, he's very familiar with the program, but I think what stands out to him is just a good fit with his coach.

“I think it'll be pretty important with him as well is just a family environment. I think that's something we pride here at Orange Lutheran. It's like, 'You're more than a football player.' It's not going to be like a factory where you get a bunch of guys and then just kind of treat them as only football players. He wants to be developed in every aspect of his life.”

Ward jokes that, as an offensive line coach, it’s been sad watching Ia’s development over the past year.

“When he was here as a freshman, every single time he dropped a pass, I would say he's moving closer to playing tackle for me,” Ward laughs. “But, he kept on making plays. He kept on making plays. Then this last year, he kind of went off a little bit and was one of our main weapons.

“Going into this season, he's probably going to be our top target at all times.”

Ward says the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder is a little light right now, but is expected to be at 240 eventually.

“His dad looks like an NFL left tackle, so he's going to develop that aspect,” says Ward. “If you look at his dad and shake his dad's hand, it's like, 'This guy's going to be a big boy.' He's definitely going to be an in-line guy in the future.”

Notre Dame assistant coach Gino Guidugli was able to watch the trio work out, including Ia.

“He didn't need to see very much for him to understand that he's a big-time guy,” Ward says.

Ia’s offer sheet includes schools like Washington, Cal, Arizona, Texas, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida State and Miami among others, but like Utu, was fired up about the Notre Dame offer.

“He was very excited,” says Ward. “It's tough to get a reaction out of all three of them because they're very mild-mannered and but they were all really excited about this one.”

That includes Ili, who showed plenty of versatility for Orange Lutheran this past season.

“He played 5-Tech, he played outside backer and he played a little bit of nickel for us,” says Ward. “In the Trinity League as a freshman, that's a tough ask. He was just able to keep it in stride. He was a guy who popped out on tape and you very rarely see that from a freshman. Only his best ball is ahead of him. He's still growing into his body. His ceiling is very, very, very high.”

Ward isn’t sure when the group will be able to get to South Bend, but expects they will at some point and probably as a group.

“They're all really close,” he says. “Maybe not early on, but maybe later on down when they're closer to making the decision, maybe next year. They're definitely open to it. I know how much the Notre Dame offer means for all three of them.”

The interest is clearly mutual.

“(Guidugli) was super, super excited with those guys. He was really excited. All three of them were stoked as well.”

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