Count on Him

Junior safety Elijah Shumate has embraced his enhanced role in the Irish defense.

What's the by-product of unique athleticism, combined with inherent aggression and outstanding communication on a football field?

How about 10 tackles, a pass defended, and a game-ending interception touchdown celebration?

That's the stat line from Notre Dame junior Elijah Shumate's first start of the Brian VanGorder era in South Bend.

What's the alternative by-product when the first two traits above are absent the latter?

Elijah Shumate, prior.

"Football is about communicating, being on the same page," said Shumate just days after authoring a standout performance against Michigan. "If you are on the same page (as a defense), if you get your feet lined up, you can play aggressive, you can stay aggressive.

"It took a lot of preparation, getting on the same page with the rest of the guys. A lot of film, a lot of studying and practicing together. Learning each other until it becomes second nature."

Shumate's first start in congress with preternaturally athletic sophomore Max Redfield produced a combined 16 tackles, two interceptions, a pass defended, and a quarterback hurry.

And oh yeah, a quarterback de-cleating incident as well.

"It was a play that we rehearsed all week," said Shumate of his interception of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner. "We disguised the coverage and I just made the play on the ball. Once I got my hands on the ball, I just wanted to score. Get in that end zone."

He did that, though it didn't count. Six points taken off the board due to the vicious blind side shot deliver by Redfield on Gardner when the latter gave chase. It was a block celebrated by old school football fans and coaches for its inherent violence and purpose. For a century, it would have been deemed legal. In the modern game, it is not.

"I was a little heartbroken," said Shumate when he was told the score didn't count (the interception did.) It happens, it's football. Calls go against you and calls go in your favor. I was glad I got the interception and was in the right place on a play we practiced. So I made the play."

A Sense of Pride

Shumate's first two seasons in South Bend offered a mixed bag. He was the team's starting nickel during it's 2012 run to the BCS Championship Game -- more successful early than late.

He played well enough to earn starting gigs as a sophomore last fall, only to lose a four-game mid-season stretch to a hamstring injury, and after working his way back thereafter, suffering an end-season start at Stanford lost due to suspension.

He began 2014 as backup to captain Austin Collinsworth's at strong safety. 36 hours before the season-opener against Rice, Collinsworth was lost due to a sprained knee. Shumate's play in his stead against the Owls left much to be desired.

With a week to prepare for the Wolverines, Shumate buckled down.

"I really think it was he didn't want to let his teammates down. He knew he was counted on. When you're placed into that position, he didn't want to let his teammates down," said head coach Brian Kelly. "I think that was really the impetus that put him in the kind of role of playing the way he did on Saturday."

It was the best game of his career to date, but Shumate expects more -- and knows he has to work for every bit of it.

"There's a long way to go. I played a solid game but it could have been a lot better," said Shumate. "Gotta be a continuous thing. I never doubted my confidence, just had to get on the right page, get out of my comfort zone and be a leader on the back end.

"We were called upon after messing up the first game, so we were challenged to do a lot better," he continued. "We feel like we can play with anybody. We practice hard, we prepare hard, and once we're clicking, we can do a lot of great things."

At least one of his veteran teammates saw Shumate's breakthrough effort coming.

"He's incredibly talented, it's unbelievable," said senior nickel Matthias Farley. "The big thing with him is he's just gained a lot of confidence. And when you put that talent with confidence, it's a lethal combination; it's hard to stop. When you get him believing in himself and everyone believing as well, and trusting him, it really makes a huge difference."

The difference for Shumate between backup and starter/part-time starter lies in the details -- everyone's details.

"Being forceful, telling everyone what to do on the play," said Shumate of his focus last week and on game night. "You have to learn everything on that defense, the linebackers the linemen, the cornerbacks, and where you have to be. Being the quarterback of that defense.

"Coach (VanGorder) got on me because I'm not really a vocal type of guy. He was just telling me you have to be vocal to play that position. You have to get everybody lined up. You have to be forceful and be a captain out there. He challenged me to do that. I was being vocal the whole week, challenging myself.

"You want to do things for the team. To better the team, you have to make that transition."


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