It he weren’t such an incredibly talented athlete/football player, Todd Lyght would have been one of the most unassuming players on the field in August of his first season at Notre Dame in 1987.
Known throughout the team as a reserved, soft-spoken guy, the competitive nature burned bright when the football was snapped.
Over the next three seasons, he became a starter as a sophomore on Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship squad and a two-time consensus All-American cornerback. That led to his selection as the No. 5 overall pick in the 1991 draft by the Los Angeles Rams, where he would go on to star as an All-Pro and Super Bowl champion before concluding his career with the Detroit Lions after a 12-year run.
“Todd was 100 percent confident in all his abilities,” said former Irish linebacker Michael Stonebreaker, who roomed with Lyght during their final season together in 1990.
“He was 100 percent confident in the defensive scheme that we ran. He was 100 percent confident in his fellow teammates on that defense. When you have all three of those, you have a really special corner.
“Todd was a shutdown corner. He got drafted in the first round. He played in the NFL for 12 years and he was a shutdown corner in the NFL. He blocked a punt in the Super Bowl, got a Super Bowl ring, was an All-Pro, and has a national championship ring. I think that speaks volumes to the type of player he was and the kind of dedication he has to himself, to the game and the respect he got from the team.”
Lyght is the sudden topic of conversation at Notre Dame this week with the expected announcement that he will replace secondary coach Kerry Cooks, likely focusing on the cornerback position, where he led the Irish in interceptions (eight) in 1989, and went on to make 37 interceptions in the NFL.
“He was a great leader as a young player,” said Irish linebacker/two-time captain Ned Bolcar of Lyght. “His talent stood out, and he approached practice with a very focused, determined, and professional attitude on the collegiate level. He wasn’t a braggart. He was never somebody who I knew to be a trash-talker.
“But on the field, I remember moments when he would speak up if our defense wasn’t playing well or our coverage broke down. He wasn’t shy about speaking up to upperclassmen while also holding himself accountable to right the ship and get the coverages straight.
“As a teammate of his, I have nothing but respect for him as a player and as a man. From the moment he walked on campus and started playing, you knew he was a special talent.”
Born in the Marshall Islands, Lyght starred at Power Catholic High School in Flint, Mich., where he was known for his pass-catching ability at wide receiver as much as his cover-corner skills.
Shortly after his arrival to Notre Dame, Irish head coach Lou Holtz moved Lyght to cornerback, where he shined from the outset. During Lyght’s time at Notre Dame, the Irish fashioned a 41-8 record. He played a supporting role off the bench as a freshman in ’87 before moving into the starting lineup in ’88 for the undefeated national champion Irish.
“What can you say about Todd Lyght that isn’t positive?” said linebacker Wes Pritchett, who led the ’88 national championship team in tackles.
“He was a younger guy my fifth year, which was his first year starting, and he showed up every day, played hard and had a great career. You look back at the film now and teams didn’t throw to his side.
“He was a guy that was always there, practicing hard, and playing hard in games. He arguably had one of the best pro careers of our whole group, if not the best. I have nothing but respect for his capabilities, his knowledge as a football player and as a teammate.”
Bolcar, Pritchett and Stonebreaker all remember Lyght as a young man of few words, but never shy on confidence and never reticent to speak up when the defense/team needed input.
“He’s always carried himself with class,” Bolcar said. “I’ve never known Todd to be anything other than an honest, hard-working, dependable teammate.
“He was at times soft-spoken, but never afraid to speak up on the field. He was young when I was still at Notre Dame, so that’s probably why he didn’t speak up as much. But when it came to playing in the game or speaking up on the field and being a leader vocally as well as physically, he wasn’t shy about that one bit. Todd had terrific confidence in his ability as a player.”
Lyght’s quiet confidence led those around him to have equal belief in his ability to get the job done.
“He was a soft-spoken guy that got it done on Saturdays,” Pritchett said. “He was a good teammate, and even though he was a young guy, I had a lot of confidence in his capabilities, which he earned through his play.”
Stonebreaker was one of the last players in his class to still be around in 1990, and the duty of leading the defense fell on his shoulders. But when he needed help organizing the process of disseminating information to the rest of the defense, Stonebreaker turned to Lyght.
“I remember my last year calling the signals in the huddle,” Stonebreaker said. “I needed somebody else to help me. So I pulled Todd down and I said, ‘Todd, I need you in front with me giving the down-and-distance, letting everybody know and getting everybody focused while I’m getting the signals.’ Without even a question, I asked him to lead the huddle with me.”
Of course, these are all memories of Todd Lyght the football player, not Todd Lyght the football coach. His background in coaching – at the age of 45 – is very limited.
Lyght was a defensive back assistant coach at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas in 2009-10, a defensive intern at Oregon in 2011-12, and an assistant defensive back coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013-14 before landing a full-time spot with Vanderbilt. Then his alma mater came calling.
Stonebreaker vouches for Lyght’s authenticity.
“If Todd has an opportunity to coach (at Notre Dame), he’ll instill that winning quality and that national championship quality and effort that we put in on that defense because he was a big part of a great defense,” Stonebreaker said.
“He knows what it is and what it takes and the sacrifices you have to make in the off-season and during the season to get to that point. I have no doubt he’d do a great job at Notre Dame.”