He exited his sophomore season as one of the more proven players on the defensive side of the football and on the cusp of stardom.
That’s what a co-team-leading four interceptions, and a team-high 15 passes defensed and 11 passes broken up will do for a player’s profile.
“What we're seeing with him more than anything else is his maturation in terms of the game and technique,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “Cole's not necessarily a guy that is prepared to take over as a vocal leader, but he's leading by example, he's leading by consistency in his work, and that gives us some veteran presence back there, which is what we're encouraging him to do.”
This spring, Luke focused on improving his physicality and becoming a more vocal leader. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, he’s not an overwhelming physical presence. But he did manage to finish sixth on the team in tackles with 48. Many of those came after completions, but he also showed a willingness to stick his nose in the action, a mindset that he tried to build upon this spring.
“My physicality is one area I wanted to improve as well as my technique in press-man,” Luke said.
“Being a vocal leader is something I had to work on a lot. I try to lead by example, but I will take guys off to the side and teach them. Coach (Todd) Lyght and I were talking about it. A vocal leader can help out that much more than just leading by example.”
Early in his career, Lyght wasn’t a vocal leader either. He knew his place in the pecking order of a team in the midst of a national title run. But as the confidence in his ability grew, a more demonstrative player began to shine through.
Luke isn’t as tall or as fast as Lyght was during his prime. Few cornerbacks have left Notre Dame and gone on to the heights Lyght did. But in terms of knowing who he is and what he needs to do in order to maximize his ability, Luke is much Lyght was – a true student of the game.
“Cole is tremendous,” Lyght said. “Right now he's our No. 1 corner. He does 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 (as far as) tendencies, formations, and what he thinks the offense is going to give us.”
By this summer, Keivarae Russell should be back on campus and in good graces with the University following his academic suspension in ’14. The chatterbox Russell will provide more than enough talk to satisfy the need for additional communication on the back end of the defense. But Luke will be prepared to offer some insight as well.
“I have a better feel for the game,” Luke said. “I don’t have to think; I get the call and I’m moving in that direction. I can play a lot faster that way, and I can be a more vocal leader. We have a young secondary as far as corners go, but I’m trying to help out the defense as much as I can.”
Further proof of Luke’s mature perspective is his response to questions pertaining to how good/improved the Irish defense can be from the unit that allowed nearly 40 points per game over the final eight of the ’14 season.
Most college football players will talk about the improvement that’s been made in the spring, how much better and closer the unit will be the next time they face game competition, and how great they can be.
Luke considers the improvement he needs to make and looks at the practicality of offering such predictions. He errs on the side of caution.
“It’s hard to tell until you step on the field before you know what kind of team you are,” Luke said. “It’s just a matter of time and working on your shortcomings to improve.
“I developed a lot as a player, and it’s a good feeling. But I can take it to another level, another height.”
Considering his talent and mature approach, that’s the direction Luke is headed.