Earnest Pupil, Natural Teacher

Former Notre Dame standout cornerback Todd Lyght has hit the ground running with his youth-filled Irish secondary this spring.

There are times a child's future is preordained.

Sometimes, future English professors show a penchant for the written word, future architects prove handy around erector sets, and future football players dominate their schoolyards.

And sometimes, future All Pros-turned collegiate assistants precede those moments of gridiron dominance with unprompted film study.

"I've always been a student of the game, even before I was a player," said ex-Irish star and current first-year secondary coach Todd Lyght. "I remember waking up on Saturday mornings and watching NFL Films for two or three hours, and then going out and playing football until the sun went down. The love of the game and the passion of the game, it came out."

Through four practices of spring ball, that passion has guided Lyght in his efforts to tutor a smallish collection of cornerbacks. The roster shows four scholarship corners (including former walk-on Connor Cavalaris) with four others -- three freshmen and a senior -- expected to join the fray for the fall.

Junior Cole Luke is the accepted top dog while classmate Devin Butler and sophomore Nick Watkins compete opposite.

"Devin's coming along really well. I really like his progression so far," said Lyght. "He's a guy that's a willing learner, and he tries really, really hard. We just have to do a better job at finishing at the end of the route.

"When I watch Devin and I watch Nick, these are guys that are tremendous talents with playmaking ability, and you see them flash. But they don't do it at a high level with enough consistency where we can be really successful."

Lyght had no trouble finishing at the end of routes, securing eight interceptions as a junior for the 1989 Irish -- a mark no Notre Dame player has reached since -- and recording another 37 as a professional.

"Our group as a unit is coming along. They need to get comfortable with the way I want them to play in training (practice)," Lyght said. "It's a little different from what Coach (Kerry) Cooks wanted. We have to be better at the end of the route. I think sometimes when these guys are training, they think they're really going hard. They're not really going hard all the way to the finish -- they have to go hard to the finish.

"Consistency is what we need to work on," he continued. "Consistency, effort, and finishing at the end of the route. And if we're able to really get a good grasp of those three phases of the game, those guys can take off at that position."

Save for a head-shaker at USC, the aforementioned Luke accomplished that task for the bulk of 2014. Thrust into a starter's role after the loss of KeiVarae Russell to suspension, Luke shined for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's group, securing four interceptions with 15 passes defended -- the latter marking the highest total of head coach Brian Kelly's five seasons in South Bend.

"Cole is tremendous. Right now he's our No. 1 corner," said Lyght. "Doing a great job of showing the younger players what it takes to be successful. The way he goes about everything in his approach, he's very attentive in meetings. He's a leader in our individual periods. When we're in team periods, he does a really good job of communicating with our outside 'backers and our safeties: tendencies, formations, what he thinks the offense is going to give us."

It's a welcomed change for Luke who only eight months ago fielded such banal questions as, "What was it like to make your first start?" when the Irish took the field vs. Rice on Aug. 31.

"Looking back it's crazy how things have changed so fast," said Luke of his ascent.

His new position coach would doubtless agree.

On January 14, 2015, Lyght was named the secondary coach at Vanderbilt University. Less than three weeks prior he was an assistant defensive backs coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Only five years earlier, Lyght held the same position for Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, Nev.) -- on the junior varsity.

"I think Tony was trying me out, he wanted to see how serious I was in my approach to coaching," said Lyght of his initial gig under former Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez, now in the same position with UNLV. "I was with the JV for about two weeks before I got bumped out to varsity, so I guess I passed the tryout."

While Lyght brings immediate credibility due to his collegiate (All-America, National Champion) and professional (All-Pro, Super Bowl Champion) pedigree, he realizes that cache only goes so far.

"Coaching is a little bit different. Just because you can play at a high level doesn't mean you can teach at a high level," Lyght said. "So I was going around to coaching clinics, going around to practices and seeing people in the professional ranks, the collegiate ranks. Tied onto Oregon (defensive intern before joining former Ducks head coach Chip Kelly with the Eagles) and before that, I was going out to Stanford when Coach (Jim) Harbaugh was there, learning from Coach (Derek) Mason.

"Now I get to have my own room and I'm really excited about teaching these young guys everything I know about the game and the way you need to go about preparing and playing."

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