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Rookie Mini Camp | 2024

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Liufau ready to learn from Kendricks, talks versatility


FRISCO, Texas — With the release and eventual retirement of former first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch due to medical concerns, the need at linebacker became a major concern for the Dallas Cowboys going into the 2024 season. In using one of their third-round picks to select Marist Liufau, they believe they've added another talented answer to questions at the position.

The Butkus Award semifinalist joined his fellow Cowboys' rookies in reporting to minicamp on Friday, and the surrealism of moving from Notre Dame to Dallas is quickly being replaced with the reality of the moment.

Liufau was one of the Official 30 visits for the Cowboys, and he says he felt then that this was where he was meant to be.

"One of the first things I got from my [Official 30] visit here is that it feels like a family," he said following his first-ever NFL walkthrough. "It's a family environment, and that's one of the things I loved about this place. … To get the opportunity to come back is such a blessing for me."

He joins a group of linebackers that now includes the veteran leadership of Eric Kendricks, a former All-Pro who pivoted away from an agreement with the San Francisco 49ers to sign on with the Cowboys in free agency.

And Liufau is as anxious to begin picking Kendricks' brain as the veteran is to mentor the group of young talent at the position.

"Definitely his knowledge," said the rookie of what he's looking to gain from playing alongside Kendricks. "He's been in the game so long and played at such a high level that, as a young guy, you want to get as much knowledge from him as you can — to learn from him and to be under his wing.

"So I'm excited to meet all of the guys and really learn from everyone, and really learn what it means to be an NFL player, and how to be a successful linebacker in this league."

One of the many things that impressed Mike Zimmer and the Cowboys about Liufau was/is his ability to know and demonstrate everybody's role on defense, no matter the position. It is not only evidence of his high football IQ, but also in his ambition to soak up as much about the game as is possible to become an impact player at the professional level.

"There's a standard at Notre Dame, especially for linebackers, that we have to know the [entire] defense and know what the guys around us are doing," he explained. "It helps us do our job to the best of our ability but to also be there for our teammates and help them when they need to know something — they can always come to us."

As a first-year player, he'll also be asked to contribute heavily to special teams, and especially given the changes in the kickoff rule this coming season.

It's a task he's looking forward to taking on.

"Getting it on special teams — that's gonna be huge for me as a rookie," Liufau noted, having a full grasp on all he'll be asked to do in 2024. "Using my ability … getting with [special teams coordinator John "Bones" Fassel] will be huge for me as a rookie."

Liufau and the other rookies will soon be joined by veterans when the latter begin to file in for voluntary minicamp on May 21, and that's when the rubber will begin touching the road for a room of rookies who, merely two weeks ago, were still technically collegiate players

But, for now, it's all about soaking up as much as they can this weekend — both on the field in walkthroughs and in the meeting room(s).

"I told the guys yesterday, everyone shared why they're here, and I told the guys I'm here to serve them in any way I can," Liufau said. "As a linebacker, I feel I'll contribute to both defense and special teams. ... I can't put it into words.

"I can't wait."

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