The second blue-chip commitment in the 2023 Texas football recruiting class arrived for second-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jeff Choate on June 25. On the afternoon of June 25, Texas officially landed a commitment in the 2023 recruiting class from the touted four-star Kahuku (HI) linebacker Liona Lefau.
Sark, Choate, and the Longhorns are now up to two blue-chip linebacker commits in the 2023 class. The other is the four-star North Crowley linebacker S’Maje Burrell, who was committed to the Longhorns since the spring.
Lefau took to his Twitter timeline late in the afternoon of June 25 to announce his commitment to Texas.
This is a pretty massive get for Choate and the Longhorns, who landed this commitment from Lefau just a couple of weeks after his official visit to Austin. Lefau specifically visited Austin officially back on June 10.
Texas football adds a gritty old-school LB to the 2023 class in 4-Star Liona Lefau
Since that time, Lefau took a trip to see the Oregon Ducks. And it was presumed that Oregon was the top school in the race to land a commitment from Lefau heading into the summer. That’s what makes this commitment so important for Choate and the Longhorns.
Texas seems to be finally making progress with some of its top linebacker recruits for the 2023 cycle. That was an issue for the likes of co-defensive coordinators/linebackers coaches Choate and Pete Kwiatkowski in the first year or so at the helm with Texas.
Texas couldn’t seem to seal the deal with their top edge and/or linebacker targets on the recruiting trail or out of the NCAA Transfer Portal since the start of last offseason. But that narrative appears to be shifting this summer.
And it’s also worth noting that there could be an interesting development in the works for the Longhorns between Lefau and the highly touted four-star Skyridge (HI) edge rusher Tausili Akana. A report from Inside Texas last week (paid content) indicated that Lefau mentioned how Texas was the only school that he and Akana were considering in common with each other this summer.
It will be interesting to see what Texas can do in the recruitment of Akana knowing that Lefau is in the mix in this 2023 class and they reportedly discussed committing to the same school.
What this 6-foot-1 and 215-pound Hawaii native linebacker Lefau brings to the table for the Longhorns is a gritty and hard-hitting defender that has an old-school mentality to him. Lefau has excellent closing speed in pursuit of the ball carrier. And he is a very sure-tackler that has a lot of pop when he meets the ball carrier head-on.
The first thing that pops in Lefau’s film from what I see is his intelligence in breaking down plays from the snap and finding the ball. Whether he has to drop back into pass coverage, get after the passer, or pursue the ball carrier defending the run, Lefau seems to know where the ball is going to be before the play actually develops.
In the pass rush, Lefau is smart in finding his way through chaos on delayed blitzes coming up the middle. His football IQ and closing speed, combined with his sure-tackling ability, mean that opposing quarterbacks don’t often get away from Lefau when he gets them within reach.
Lefau isn’t going to miss many tackles when he’s got the ball carrier, regardless if it’s the quarterback or a running back, in his sights. He’s an excellent fundamental tackler with a natural nose to find the football.
That is something that was largely missing from the linebackers last season for Choate, Kwiatkowski, and the Longhorns. Thus, this will be a fantastic addition to the Longhorns 2023 class at linebacker.
Lefau also has good instincts and surprising quick lateral speed when he’s called upon to drop into pass coverage. Since he also plays at the tight end position in high school, he knows what’s often in the minds of opposing pass-catchers he’s assigned to cover.
The fact that Lefau also plays at tight end for Kahuku means that he has good hands for a linebacker. He could be a threat to get at least a couple of interceptions year in and year out against unsuspecting quarterbacks.
Stopping the run is potentially the weak point of Lefau’s game. His smaller 210-215 pound frame often means he struggles to get off blocks in pursuit of the ball carrier. And he can often be caught overpursuing the ball carrier, which can come back to bite him when trying to bring down some of the more elusive running backs, wide receivers, etc. in the open field.
Yet, these are both aspects of Lefau’s game that can be patched up at the collegiate level. He should be able to put on at least 10 or 15 more pounds at the next level. Some work in the weight room during summer workouts next offseason will do Lefau a lot of good.
Lefau also just needs to get more starting reps in high school at the linebacker position defending the run to get more elusive instincts in this phase of the game. That will also be true once he arrives on campus with the Longhorns in 2023.
All in all, this is big for the Longhorns to get a natural linebacker that is a real force to be reckoned with in multiple regards such as Lefau. Under Choate and Kwiatkowski, Lefau could shine playing in a role similar to that of the 6-foot-2 and 221-pound senior Jaylan Ford, who hosted him for a while during his official visit to Austin a couple of weekends ago.
Lefau should be able to challenge for starting reps at middle linebacker by his second or third year in college, depending on how the next two recruiting classes shape up at this position. He’ll need to add some size and prove he can be more instinctual defending the run before he’s truly ready to assume a starting role with this linebacker corps.
But the natural ability for Lefau to find the ball carrier without overpursuing in multiple phases of the game for this defensive front could be a real game-changer for Choate and Kwiatkowski at least a couple of years down the road.
Lefau is the ninth commitment in the Longhorns 2023 class, and the second since June 23. This also now makes it all of the commits in the Longhorns 2023 class, outside of the two tight ends in the mix, that are touted blue-chip recruits.