Russell Steps Up

Keivarae Russell didn't only take his move from running back to cornerback in stride, he relished it, and a quicker path to the field might follow.

Jeff Burris did it. So did Tom Carter. Ditto Reggie Brooks and Wille Clark.

Though the road traveled was different for each former Irish starter and touted high school prospect, the end result of the aforementioned players' moves from the offensive backfield to cornerback and/or safety concluded similarly: with an NFL draft selection.

That's not on the radar of true freshman athlete, check that, freshman cornerback Keivarae Russell as he embarks on a season in Notre Dame's defensive backfield.

Winning is.

"Its fun out here. I played just a little bit of DB in high school," said Russell. "I came here as an 'athlete' and told the coaches I'll play whatever you need me to play in order to win. They needed DBs. Everyone can play running back but I wanted to see if I could help out at DB."

So far so good, as the effervescent (there's no other description that fits) Russell has purportedly moved to No. 2 at the field cornerback spot behind junior Lo Wood through 12 camp practices.

"Its fun to fly around the ball. On offense, sometimes you're in the play, sometimes you're not. Defense you're always flying around the ball. That's one thing about me, I'm always smiling, always energetic, enthusiastic. Its fun to fly around the ball and express my energy on the defensive side."

Of course, if being athletic and energetic was all it took to play cornerback, Notre Dame wouldn't have a seemingly omnipresent hole at the position over the last 9 years.

"The biggest adjustment is footwork for sure," he admitted. "As far as speed and size, I know I can keep up with a lot of players, but at the end of the day, its technique and footwork that separates the good from the best.

"The transition from high school players to college players every day, the routes are more crisp, their speed, their strength -- everything about it is increased. So technique is the challenge for sure."

Russell was approached about the move just prior to August camp.

"A couple days before camp started, Coach Kelly called me into his office and told me they'd like to see how I can help the team at DB," said Russell. "I told Coach I'm ready to play whatever to help the team win. Kick return, punt return, defensive end…Coach smiled and I said 'I'm ready to give it a go.'"

The freshman noted he's tapped into the guidance of first-time starters Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood in camp.

"He's quick, he's honestly doing a lot better than I thought he would at the beginning," said Jackson during camp's opening week. "He has a nice punch behind him; he's a real quick kid. I don't think some people knew he was this fast. I think he's probably one of the fastest in the freshmen class for sure."

Speed, quickness, a nice punch, and a team-first attitude. To borrow a phrase from Russell's defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, the freshman corner appears to possess both the necessary tangible and intangible traits to succeed.

And though he doesn't lack for confidence, Russell is realistic about the early stages of his development.

"I love challenges. I had the offensive mindset when I got here so its going to be hard to compete at first, but every day I love a challenge," he said. "I'm trying to compete with the best."

If he can forge a spot on the two-deep as rumored, Russell will get his chance to do just that.


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