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Notre Dame Football

Revisiting Hart, Bertrand, and Liufau as Recruits

January 31, 2024

JD Bertrand, Marist Liufau, and Cam Hart are the homegrown former Notre Dame players who are competing at the Reese’s Senior Bowl this week. They also were all part of the 2019 recruiting class.

If they get drafted, they’ll join three other members of the class who already have been drafted: Kyle Hamilton, Isaiah Foskey, and Kyren Williams. There’s also the possibility that returning players Howard Cross and Jack Kiser end up getting drafted in 2025 as well.

I think it’s a fair bet that Notre Dame will have at least six drafted from that cycle. That would be the second most from any class who signed under Brian Kelly (2016 had nine). That’s more than the top-five class who signed in 2013 (the second ranked 2008 class that was signed by Charlie Weis had six).

What stands out about Bertrand, Liufau, and Hart is that none of them were highly ranked recruits. Bertrand was a low 4-star, Liufau, and Hart were 3-stars. None of them had a ranking that would suggest they’d be obvious NFL prospects. All three turned heads yesterday on the first day of practice.

They are all examples of why development matters, but let’s not overlook identification of their potential either. I thought it would be a fun exercise to look back on how they were viewed when they signed with Notre Dame starting with Hart.

CB Cam Hart

Hart will be drafted and maybe a lot higher than people think. He doesn’t need to in order to be considered a success story at Notre Dame. He was a three-year starter with 33 career havoc plays (tackles for loss, force fumbles, pass breakups, and interceptions).

He was projected to play receiver at Notre Dame, but it didn’t take long for him to be moved to defense. It made sense with his size and his speed, but also because he was a two-way player in high school.

I gave him a grade of 88. He was a composite 3-star player, 635th in the country. I guess with how it turned out, I should have regrets about where I ranked him. The reason I don’t is that he had the least amount of publicly available film out of anyone in the class and the film I did dig up didn’t show much. His quarterback was not very good, so he didn’t get to shine much as a receiver.

One of my biggest questions in the class at the time they signed was this:

Can Cam Hart‍, the biggest enigma in this class, reach his full athletic potential at Notre Dame while he finds the right position fit?

Well, that question was certainly answered and the staff deserves a ton of credit for identifying that he needed to be moved to defense early on.

If there is one thing I do regret with how I evaluated him back then it was not giving enough credit to his athletic testing. He ran a ho-hum 4.70 40 at a Nike camp, but a 37.5 inch vertical leap and a 4.19 short shuttle for someone who measured in at 6-3 187 is elite.

Mike Mickens did an outstanding job coaching Hart, but the pieces were always there for him to be a legit player at corner.

LB JD Bertrand

Bertrand was committed to Georgia before they “parted ways”. I’m sure UGA is fine with how it turned out and Notre Dame is too. Who wouldn’t want a highly productive multi-year starter and two-time team captain?

I gave Bertrand a grade of 91. He was a composite 4-star prospect, 358th in the country. This is one where the Film Don’t Lie was really spot on in highlighting his strengths and projecting what he could be. Here’s what I wrote about his ceiling:

Bertrand is a very good prospect that has a chance to develop into a heck of a Mike linebacker. Like every young player, he’ll need to add weight and get stronger, but he may always be a bit smaller for that spot. In an ideal world everyone would prefer a player who is a bit taller and longer, so technique is going to be huge for him.
I don’t see instincts/recognition being a big issue. That could close the gap between some others who he will be competing against who are slightly better athletically. His biggest obstacle to playing time is going to be the crowded position room.
He has starter potential and could be a very good one, but he’ll need to distinguish himself from the others who will be fighting for reps. I think a good comparison for him is Drew White (I had him rated higher than most as a recruit). It’s a terrific bonus to add him to the class and I’m excited to see him in the mix with the other seven linebackers they’ve brought and are bringing in the last couple of cycles.

I think the White comp ended up aging pretty well. Both were three-year starters and thrived because of their instincts/recognition. Bertrand just ended up being a better version of White.

It’s hard to believe that at one point Notre Dame was worried about fitting him under the scholarship limit. They did well to make sure he was going to be in the class no matter what and it paid off in a big way.

LB Marist Liufau

Liufau was also someone who Notre Dame wasn’t sure they would have room for, but were doing everything to make sure he ended up Irish. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t have to worry about scholarship numbers and he was fine to join the rest of the class when they started.

I gave Liufau a grade of 88. He was a composite 3-star, 457th in the country. That was largely because he had a ton of physical development to do. At the time he committed, he was listed on one site as a 175 pound cornerback prospect. He’s now 239 pounds and measured in with 34 inch arms. That’s NFL defensive end arm length.

He was one of my five favorite prospects who signed with the Irish that cycle. His passion for the game showed on film and I could see what kind of player he could become if he physically developed. Here’s what I wrote about his ceiling:

As mentioned above, he was listed as a 175 pound corner and has played wide receiver on offense. That isn’t all that different from Alohi Gilman being a skinny wide receiver up until late in his high school career. Everyone has seen how Gilman has turned out a few years into his career while now making plays for the Irish.
I think Liufau has a chance to develop into a very good player for Notre Dame. I could see him starting out at Rover, but wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up at Buck if he puts on the right amount of weight. Normally a guy like Liufau ends up at a program like Utah and three years down the line he is ballin’ out in the Pac-12 while people wonder how he slipped through the cracks. Notre Dame did a good job getting in on a guy who probably would have received a lot more attention if he was from a different part of the country.
He’s an aggressive playmaker with good instincts and innate ability as a blitzer/pass rusher. Those things can go a long way if the physical development part of it comes together and he is a late-bloomer in that department. It may take him a couple of years before he gets into the mix for playing time. After that, he has the potential to be a starter and core special teams player.

Liufau physically developed quicker than I anticipated and was rotating at Will linebacker by his second year. He was the starter at Will to end the 2020 season and looked poised to have a breakout 2021 before breaking his leg in fall camp.

One of the things that made him such an intriguing prospect was his versatility and that versatility was what made him be a key piece in Notre Dame’s 2023 defense. As the “Money” linebacker, he was able to rush the passer, act as a spy, and play in coverage on 3rd downs. It’s those skills plus the violence he plays with that make him a real prospect in the eyes of NFL scouts.

The NFL might not have been in anyone’s mind when he was first offered, but this was always going to be a possibility for him once he filled out his frame. That happened for him and that’s why he’s in Mobile competing this week.

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