It's hard to know where Alohi Gilman's interest in Notre Dame started.
The Navy transfer, who signed with the Irish on Friday, grew up in the same Hawaiian hometown of Laie as Manti Te'o and Robby Toma. He's talked to both since making the switch, not that he needed an introduction. Gilman trained with Toma on breaks during his Irish career. Te'o was friends with Gilman's older siblings.
If Gilman's Irish interest didn't start with those Hawaiian roots, Navy's upset of Notre Dame last November gave it a foundation. Gilman posted a game-high 12 tackles that afternoon, including a flip of running back Josh Adams. He remembers how big the Irish were. Notre Dame's staff remembers how big Gilman played.
"Notre Dame has some huge people. Humongous men," Gilman said. "Definitely one of the more exciting games I've played. It was big-time competition and exciting for me, playing against the best.
"Playing on that stage and that level, that gave me confidence."
Nearly three months after that game Gilman made another Notre Dame connection, even if it technically wasn't one back then. During official visit season in late January, Gilman hosted defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa of Hawaii on an official visit. Three days later, Tagovailoa-Amosa officially visited Notre Dame, where he'll enroll next week.
Gilman will join him. Maybe even in the lineup this year.
The 6-foot, 195-pound safety is working with Notre Dame on a waiver that would make him immediately eligible, although it's unclear what grounds the player and program would have for an exemption. If that waiver fails, Gilman would still have three years of eligibility after sitting out this season.
Regardless, Gilman should upgrade Notre Dame's toughness immediately. He lived a schedule in Annapolis that Irish players can only compliment in interviews.
That cliché about football being the easiest part of a Navy player's day?
"Oh yeah, that is 100 percent true," Gilman laughed. "For some guys, football is like when you check in to work. For me it was like checking out. I could relax, play, have fun.
"Obviously it's a different type of person there because it's not a regular college. The rigorous schedule, I went through that. The reason we're so tough on the field is what we go through on a day-to-day basis. There's no excuses. You go out and compete.
"The biggest thing with Navy is toughness. I hope going to Notre Dame, I can bring that to the team, show toughness and show some grit."
As for the tangibles, Notre Dame did a five-game evaluation of Gilman to figure out if he'd fit in Mike Elko's defense. It saw a 12-game starter as a freshman – Gilman did a year of prep school before joining the team – who also played on all kickoff and punt units.
Gilman, who was recruited by Irish assistant Brian Polian, said the Irish see him as a free safety who can fill the alley in run support but also cover slot receivers at the line of scrimmage.
If Gilman does get eligible this fall he'd rate as Notre Dame's most game-tested safety considering the Irish have a top five of Nick Coleman, Jalen Elliott, Devin Studstill, Nicco Fertitta and Isaiah Robertson.
Joining that group meant extracting himself from the Naval Academy, which required more than asking Niumatalolo for his release. Gilman had to interview with officers up the chain of command and wind down his security clearance. He said he pushed the administrative issue, wrapping up a process in one week that can take one month.
Gilman knew he wanted to leave Navy about a month ago because he didn't have a passion for military service after graduation and because he wanted to keep the door open for an NFL shot. This year the military eliminated an exception that could have let Gilman play professionally, closing a loophole that former quarterback Keenan Reynolds used to make the Baltimore Ravens.
"That was definitely part of it and I want to compete at the next level," Gilman said. "And I didn't have a deep desire to become a military officer, but I respect everything about the armed forces. I just didn't have a deep desire to do it."
Gilman said his father Asai, who played at Southern Utah, was against the transfer at first but came around after talking it out. Both Gilman's parents took a red-eye flight to the Midwest to officially visit Notre Dame with their son. They signed off on Gilman's career move after seeing campus.
Two days after that official visit, Gilman made the call for Notre Dame.
He said he had offers from USC and Arizona, with interest coming from Michigan.
"It was definitely Notre Dame or USC," he said. "To be honest, I never thought this would happen. A year ago, I was in Plebe summer, doing the indoctrination and getting my head shaved. Now all of this has been happening so quick. It's been good for me to sit back, reflect a little bit. I'm excited to go."