Tyler Luatua ranked among the nation’s top 20 (No. 18) tight ends in the country following his senior season (2013) at La Mirada (Calif.) High School, where he also played outside linebacker and was considered a comparable if not an equally-rated prospect.
Luatua’s ratings were all over the chart – unranked by Scout but as high as 38th overall by one recruiting service. He caught a combined 77 passes for 1,006 yards and 12 touchdowns during his final two years of prep ball. At one point during the recruiting process, his two leaders were USC and Alabama, the latter of which was the choice of his older brother, Isaac, an offensive lineman.
The soft-spoken Luatua ultimately picked Notre Dame, where he quickly found a role as a blocking tight end during his freshman season. He played 10 games in ’14, emerging as a viable option in the double-tight end set against Syracuse and Stanford. Luatua did not catch a pass as a freshman.
Luatua played in another 10 games as a sophomore in ’15, starting three (Virginia, Navy and Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl). For the second straight season, he did not catch a pass.
He announced his intentions to transfer from Notre Dame to Brigham Young shortly after the conclusion of the 2015 season. His intent was to remain in school to complete the semester and then transfer. Citing a change of heart, Luatua announced his decision to stay at Notre Dame following the conclusion of spring drills and was accepted back into the fold.
• BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Luatua regains his role as primary blocking tight end with Durham Smythe and Alizé Jones the top two dual-threat tight ends. Nic Weishar continues to seek playing time as a pass-receiving tight end while Luatua moves past Jacob Matuska, who shifted from the defensive line in the spring to provide depth in Luatua’s absence.
• WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Luatua can’t regain his lead role as a blocking tight end as Matuska proves to be a capable option in the running game while Smythe, Jones and Weishar continue to ascend up the depth chart. (Note: Luatua has had concussion issues each of the past two seasons.)
• CAREER COMPARISON
Marcus Freeman was a 6-foot-3, 245-pound tight end out of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn., where he was recruited by Tyrone Willingham’s staff and played for Charlie Weis. After preserving a year, Freeman took on a blocking tight end role, playing 11 games but failing to catch a pass in ’03. Freeman caught the first five passes of his career as a red-shirt freshman in ’04. After playing 12 games, starting one, in 2005 without a pass reception, Freeman returned for a fifth year and caught nine passes, including two touchdowns.
• DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
In depends upon which recruiting service you choose to believe. Two sites, including Scout, had Luatua as a three-star prospect and unranked among the nation’s top 300 prospects, which means the fact he played 10 games as a true freshman indicates he was a bit ahead of schedule, although he fit a specific blocking need. With two years of eligibility remaining, there’s still time for him to exceed some of the more modest projections coming out of high school.
• LUATUA AT HIS BEST
Luatua started three games for the Irish during his sophomore year and made a contribution as a blocker for an offense that rushed for more than 200 yards per game for the first time since 2000. One could argue, however, that Luatua was at his most effective level of productivity at the start of his career against Syracuse in Game 4 of his freshman season.
• QUOTES OF NOTE
“Family is extremely important to me, and I had a strong desire to get close to them. Once I was able to truly sit down with them and talk about everything, it became obvious that Notre Dame has become my home. I regretted my decision and realized this place is where I should be and need to be.”
-- Tyler Luatua a few weeks after spring drills
“Tyler came to me a couple of weeks ago and expressed his unquestioned desire to rejoin the program. Fortunately, from a roster standpoint, we’re in a position to bring him back. He’s most certainly grateful for the opportunity and I’m convinced it’s the right thing for him.”
-- Brian Kelly in mid-May