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KeiVarae Russell joins NFL exodus

Cornerback KeiVarae Russell declared for the NFL Draft on Monday, following C.J. Prosise and Will Fuller in departing Notre Dame with remaining eligibility.

Notre Dame can shelve that appeal on KeiVarae Russell’s potential fifth year.

On Monday, Notre Dame’s top defensive back declared for the NFL Draft as expected, well before he knew if he’d actually be able to play out that final season in South Bend. Because Russell was suspended for his junior academic year for academic misconduct he needed to petition for reinstatement to be a potential fifth-year senior.

The product of Everett, Wash., wanted to move on with his football career regardless.

“I’m back on track as far as progressing as a player,” Russell told Sports Illustrated. “I’m ready to fulfill my dream and help out my family and do other things I wanted to do in my life.”

Russell told advisors that he would have likely declared after his junior year had he not be suspended, ultimately returning to South Bend for the fall semester and his senior season. He departs Notre Dame without his degree, although he indicated to Sports Illustrated that he’d continue to work toward his diploma.

Russell is the third Notre Dame player to declare for the draft in the past three days, following receiver Will Fuller and running back C.J. Prosise. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley made his intentions clear before the bowl game. Linebacker Jaylon Smith is likely the final departure, at least in terms of NFL declarations.

Russell had an up-and-down senior year, finishing with two game-sealing interceptions and 60 tackles. He also showed the rust that comes with a year away from football before succumbing to a broken leg suffered against Boston College.

He missed games at Stanford and against Ohio State.

After the Fiesta Bowl, Russell said he was close to completing his rehab, following the two-month recovery time. Brian Kelly had intimated if Notre Dame had made the College Football Playoff and advanced to the national championship game on Jan. 11 that Russell might have been available.

Russell won’t work out at the NFL Combine but plans to be healthy for Notre Dame’s Pro Day.

“I will be healed in the next few days, but I want to be able to perform at my best with the same amount of training (others will have),” Russell told SI. “I want to get back to where I was and I feel like when I come back, I’m going to come back stronger.”

Russell departs as a three-year starter and five-star personality, including on Notre Dame’s BCS National Championship Game team during his freshman year when he moved to cornerback from running back in training camp.

His departure means the Irish must rebuild in the secondary, which will lose safety Elijah Shumate and has safety Max Redfield coming off a suspension for the bowl game.

While Russell’s career didn’t end on a high note, he didn’t regret the comeback or his time in South Bend.

“My teammates, the coaches and the faculty opened their arms and allowed me back,” Russell told SI. “It’s been a pleasure to play for Notre Dame and attend the university.” Top Stories