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Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Linebackers and Dog Breeds


NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

On a roster rife with question marks, Notre Dame’s linebacking depth chart at least has less uncertainty than the others. But there are still plenty of queries for a position group now on its third defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in as many years.

So, to break it all down, here are Notre Dame’s linebackers as various dog breeds. Enjoy.

No. 8 Marist Liufau — Rottweiler

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 Notre Dame at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Liufau is known for running around like his hair is on fire. With that kind of ferocity — and the amount of hair on his head — it seems proper to label him a rottweiler.

With Marcus Freeman taking over as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach last year, Liufau was poised to lead the team in tackles as the starting will (see also: weak side) linebacker. Fans got a glimpse at what the Kalihi, Hawaii native could be during limited action in 2020 when he recorded 10 solo tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Then a broken leg last August delayed what could have been a breakout year for Liufau. The rising senior will get a chance to make up for lost time this season.

No. 24 Jack Kiser — Border Collie

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Wisconsin Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently, the border collie is the most intelligent dog breed. Assuming that’s the case, it’s an apt assignment for Kiser. Teammates and coaches rave about his cerebral skills which are perfectly suited to the rover (see also: sniper) position.

An in-state product, it’s probably fair to call Kiser’s ascendance unexpected considering he was a three-star prospect from a single-A high school in Indiana. After redshirting as a freshman he was part of a three-man rotation (along with Liufau and Shayne Simon) at the buck linebacker spot in 2020.

Last year was Kiser’s first as a full-time starter at rover, and he recorded 26 solo tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions returned for touchdowns. His impact may go largely unnoticed and underappreciated, but Kiser plays a critical role in orchestrating the Irish front seven.

No. 52 Bo Bauer — Dachshund

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m pretty sure that the Site Manager/Emperor/Supreme Warlord/Defender of the Faith, Mr. Vowles, would fire me on the spot if I didn’t make Bo Bauer a Dachshund.

The Harborcreek, Penn. native hasn’t missed a single game in his Notre Dame career, although he’s only started once. That’s because he’s been stuck behind the likes of Drue Tranquil and Drew White at various points through the last four years. And now that he’s utilizing the coronavirus waiver to return for a fifth season, it’s still unclear who between Bauer and J.D. Bertrand will be starting at the mike linebacker spot this year.

But regardless of Bauer’s position on the depth chart, he’s a physical defender and vocal leader on the Irish defense. If his final collegiate season is statistically comparable to his most recent one — 47 total tackles, 4.0 TFL, six pass breakups and one interception — mike linebacker will most likely be a strength for the Irish.

No. 27 J.D. Bertrand — German Shepherd

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 North Carolina at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Like border collies, German shepherds are also supposed to be very intelligent dogs. Add in the aggressiveness they display as part of K-9 units, and Bertrand seems to display a similar combination.

Bertrand went from seven total tackles in 2020 to leading the Irish with 101 last year. During the 2021 fall camp, he looked to be an ideal No. 2 will linebacker. Then Liufau, Paul Moala and Shayne Simon all suffered early season-ending injuries and Prince Kollie lost crucial practice time with COVID-19.

When Notre Dame’s linebacker depth plummeted off a cliff, Bertrand had to hold down the fort — and with a broken wrist for much of the season, no less. He was the target of plenty of criticism (much of it unfair) for his struggles in pass coverage, especially the way he (and several other Irish defenders) got burned against Cincinnati and Oklahoma State.

He’s by no means a perfect player, but Bertrand can be an incredibly effective linebacker assuming he doesn’t have to shoulder almost every snap at his position for an entire season. If he and those around him can stay healthy, Notre Dame fans should get a glimpse at the ideal Bertrand in 2022.

No. 12 Jordan Botelho — Wolf

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Notre Dame at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is cheating a little bit, because wolves and dogs aren’t exactly the same thing. But Botelho isn’t exactly a linebacker, and, like a wolf, he is ferocious. (It seems the quintessential remark regarding Botelho is to “bake at least one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty into his preseason projections”).

Botelho was listed as an inside linebacker coming out of high school, a four-star recruit and the consensus No. 1 player from Hawaii in the 2020 class. He was quickly moved to defensive end after arriving at Notre Dame, but after moving to linebacker he’s still trying to find his niche. Regardless, the staff is intent on finding a way to get him on the field, hence why they are cross-training him at both rover at linebacker and vyper on the defensive line.

The key word with Botelho is “situational.” It’s up to new defensive coordinator Al Golden to find the best time and place within the game to plug in Botelho so he can unleash his full potential.

No. 10 Prince Kollie — Golden Retriever

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is more about the word “retriever” than anything else. That’s because the talk with Kollie is that he has terrific instincts, but they need a lot of refining since his high school defense was little more than “see ball, get ball.”

Still, that scheme worked well enough for Kollie to be named the high school Butkus Award winner given to the best linebacker in the country. That prestige surely contributed to the clamor for him to contribute as a true freshman last year after injuries decimated the position group, but COVID-19 cost him in terms of necessary practice time.

Regardless, the Irish need someone to emerge at the will spot behind Liufau. If it’s Kollie as a true sophomore, all the better, but it would need to be a big step up from the mere 14 total tackles (six solo) he recorded last season.

No. 58 Will Schweitzer — Cocker Spaniel

Notre Dame v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

To be honest, I just looked up “all-around dog breeds” for this comparison and cocker spaniels were near the top. It seems appropriate enough consider Schweitzer’s versatility coming out of a high school: a tight end and hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker.

Schweitzer was a late pickup in the 2020 recruiting class, flipping from Nebraska to Notre Dame last August. The three-star out of Los Gatos, Calif. was sidelined with injury as a freshman but managed to appear in three games last season. He may rotate in at rover, but it’s difficult to see a path to playing time behind both Kiser and Botelho.

No. 44 Niuafe “Junior” Tuihalamaka — Doberman Pinscher

Junior Tuihalamaka notre dame football recruiting

Dobermans are another aggressive canine, and Tuihalamaka seems to have easiest path to playing time of the freshman linebackers this season given his physicality. That’s saying a lot considering one of his classmates was a five-star recruit.

But Tuihalamaka is advanced for his grade, mainly because he was a pure middle linebacker in high school whereas his classmates needed to divide their attention between multiple positions across offense and defense. He already figures to get reps this season as a No. 3 mike linebacker behind Bauer and Bertrand. Stay tuned for future storylines about him decommitting from in-state school USC to choose archrival Notre Dame.

No. 17 Jaylen Sneed — Great Dane

Via @mattfreemanISD on Twitter

The aforementioned five-star alongside Tuihalamaka, and the only five-star in the 2022 class, Sneed was the prized recruit in Marcus Freeman’s inaugural linebacker haul. The prestige and expectations are great, so he’s a great dane.

Talent aside, Sneed is going through a learning curve that most true freshman experience. It may take him time to get acclimated, especially with how much is demanded of the rover position in the Irish defense. But as welcome as Sneed’s early emergence would be, it isn’t necessary right now given the experience ahead of him.

No. 42 Nolan Ziegler — Irish Terrier

Via @nolanziegler24 on Twitter

In honor of the legend Clashmore Mike, Ziegler is an Irish terrier. I mean, how could a Notre Dame legacy and a guy born on St. Patrick’s Day not be the most Irish of dog breeds?

A jack-of-all-trades in high school, Ziegler was not only a star linebacker but also a wide receiver (25 touchdowns and over 1,300 receiving yards as a senior) and lacrosse player. He Could play either the rover or will spots, although he’ll most likely be relegated to a redshirt this season.