Cole Luke was a highly-coveted cornerback out of Chandler, Ariz., who helped lead Hamilton High School – coached by former Irish quarterback/receiver Steve Belles – to the 2012 state title. In fact, Luke was with his high school squad in Dublin, Ireland when the Irish began their journey to the national championship game against Navy.
Other Hamilton High players had considered the Irish in the past, but it was Luke – a four-star prospect – who chose the Irish over Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State. The nephew of former Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson was difficult to miss on the prep football field. He returned all three of his interceptions as a junior for touchdowns.
Luke immediately put himself in the mix as a freshman at Notre Dame when he saw action in all 13 games, finishing with 15 tackles, six of which came in the Air Force game. As the season progressed, he saw more time in Notre Dame’s multiple-defensive back schemes.
But it wasn’t until his sophomore year in ’14 that the talent really shined through. With KeiVarae Russell suspended for the season, Luke started all 13 games opposite fifth-year senior transfer Cody Riggs. He tied Matthias Farley for the team lead in interceptions with four while pacing the Irish in passes broken up (11) and passes defended (15). The passes broken up total was the most by an Irish player since Raeshon McNeil’s 11 in 2008. Luke also forced a pair of fumbles while finishing sixth on the team in tackles with 48.
With the return of Russell and the progress of Luke during the ’14 campaign, it would not be a surprise if the pair developed into one of the nation’s better cornerback tandems.
It would take an unusual set of circumstances outside of an injury to project Luke as anything but an every-game, full-time starter at cornerback in ’15. Nick Watkins is a rising prospect who emerged in the spring, but Luke has established himself as the man opposite Russell.
Robert Blanton was a four-star prospect out of North Carolina who placed his name on the depth chart as a freshman behind Terrail Lambert in 2008. The following year, he moved into the starting lineup. Blanton tied for second on the team in interceptions as a sophomore while tying for third on the squad in passes defensed. At that point, Blanton’s career took a turn – which is not anticipated for Luke -- as Gary Gray moved ahead of him on the depth chart. But Blanton finished strong in 2011 with a co-high two interceptions, eight tackles for loss and a combined 14 passes broken up/defensed.
Luke is right on course for a four-star prospect and one of the top two dozen cornerbacks coming out of the prep ranks in 2013. In fact, with four interceptions and a boatload of passes broken up/defensed, those numbers place Luke well ahead of the curve with two years of eligibility in front of him.
Notre Dame needed every big play it produced in the 17-14 victory over Stanford, and Luke was up for the challenge. He made the first two interceptions of his career against the Cardinal. He added a sack, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and four tackles in the victory. One could argue that his performance against Northwestern was nearly as noteworthy. Luke had seven tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble forced and an interception.
“What we're seeing with him more than anything else is his maturation in terms of the game and technique. 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.”
-- Brian Kelly in the spring of ‘15