Marked Man

Notre Dame freshman nickel cornerback Cole Luke is tasked with one of the most difficult coverage responsibilities in the modern game. He welcomes the challenge -- and the expected attention that comes with it.

"Cole is probably one of the smartest football players, just from understanding concepts, body position, the feel for the game, why you want to do this, that I've coached in my career. We'll see how he reacts once he gets out there live...He's just a good, smart, savvy football player that has a great understanding for the game."
-- Irish cornerbacks coach and co-defensive coordinator, Kerry Cooks

The 2013 Fighting Irish house an impressive lineage of famous father-son duos. Well-known to the public are the Atkinson's (Josh and George III, former Raiders S George II), the Collinsworth's (Austin and former NFL Pro Bowler Cris), the Hunter's (Torii Jr., and former MLB All-Star, Torii Sr.), the Robinson's (Corey and Hall of Famer David), the Tausch's (Nick and former 49ers lineman Terry), and recent addition, Jesse Bongiove and father, Jon Bon Jovi.

Digging further, Rocket Ismail is T.J. Jones' godfather while Jones' late father, Andre, was an Irish star linebacker and 1988 national champion.

And then there's the famous uncle, Darren Woodson, one whose influence on his nephew, freshman cornerback Cole Luke, not only helped guide the former four-star from Arizona to South Bend, but helped make possible his early assimilation to the Irish defense.

"We're very close," said Luke of his uncle, a former All Pro safety with the Dallas Cowboys. "Ever since high school he's been helping me out with the little stuff, just positioning and what not. He played a big role in helping me decide what school to go to, and being a helping hand in making the decision and later on in the process.

"He was there when it came down to game plans, what he used to run back in the day, coverage ability. He was a big help."

Woodson, a former Arizona State Sun Devil, current ESPN analyst, and potential future NFL Hall of Famer, helped Luke with much more than his backpedal and understanding of a Cover 2 scheme.

"I just realized it's not all about football, it's what can help you later on in life," said Luke, a Chandler, Arizona native of his decision to leave the southwest for college. "Notre Dame is that kind of place. Me and my uncle added that to my recruitment and came down to the decision of what could do more for me later on.

"When we sat down late one night at the table and talked about it with my family, we hit on that."

Rookie Hazing

Top tier high school cornerbacks don't see a lot of action. Invariably, that changes when they first grace a collegiate field on Saturdays.

"It's good and bad," said Luke of the preponderance of passes he now sees in limited snaps. "If I was an offensive coordinator I'd go after the freshman too. Coming out of high school they never threw to my side. Now it's an opportunity to play the ball and make plays."

Asked if the ball seems to come his way upon his entrance into the defense in the nickel or dime packages, Luke noted, "Yeah, lately, I've been figuring that out."

The confident Luke is well-prepared for such action. He was challenged early in August camp, responded, and secured the taxing nickel coverage role. He now appears in both nickel and dime, pending down-and-distance and foe.

"It didn't come out of the ordinary," he said of his early ascent in August camp. "Once I got the game plan and technique down, and once I could get it into my nature, I was pretty good.

"Hard work and dedication can get me where I want to go. It's all about determination and how far you put yourself out there. If I played inside my nature and my regular self, I felt it would come."

It's come partly because of some advance placement courses, courtesy of NFL bloodlines.

"I would say most of (his knowledge) has to be attributed to my uncle. He helped me out with a lot of fundamental stuff," said Luke of Woodson. "And I guess I picked it up in high school, learned myself and taught myself basic stuff."

Now five games into the season, it appears a fellow rookie is about to receive a heavier does of action -- more trial by fire -- with an up-tempo spread attack from Arizona State on tap.

"Cole has done a nice job, and I think early (that is) why we went with him, because he was able to pick up and grasp some of the concepts a little bit earlier," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of Luke, adding, "But Devin (Butler) has done a really nice job. This week he was our special teams player of the week for his physical play on special teams. We see a young man there that's growing quickly, as well.

"I think you'll see a little bit more of him this weekend, and I think both of those freshmen corners have shown not only the physical ability but the mental capacity to be able to go in there and compete, and I think you'll see that from both of them."

As Luke has already realized and Butler soon will, a freshman cornerback's presence attracts ample attention. Top Stories