Brash Russell backs up bravado

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Russell’s play was sporadic at times in ’15, but he came up big with the game on the line against USC and Temple. Now he’s ready to prove it in the NFL.

NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Yes, it’s still bragging, even if you can back it up.

But make no mistake, KeiVarae Russell backed it up Thursday at Notre Dame’s Pro Day.

Self-proclaimed as one of the premier cornerbacks in the country since his 2013 Pinstripe Bowl performance, Russell missed the 2014 season due to suspension, and then turned in a hit-and-miss 2015 campaign.

Russell certainly came up big in victories over USC and Temple when his late interceptions sealed wins for the Irish. He offered physical reasons Thursday as to why the play was sporadic at times.

But there was nothing inconsistent about Russell’s performance inside the Loftus Sports Center Thursday. With much to prove after breaking his tibia in the 11th game of the season, prompting him to miss the balance of the campaign as well as any activity in February’s NFL combine, Russell sprung his physical talent on the NFL scouts on hand.

Russell clipped off a 38 ½-inch vertical jump, an 11-foot, 2-inch broad jump, a 6.89-second three-cone drill, a four-flat 20-yard shuttle and a 4.43 40-yard dash time.

By the time Russell decided it would be prudent to bypass a second 40-yard dash as he nursed his ailing hamstring, the 5-foot-11, 192-pounder had said all he needed to say.

“All the numbers we you saw today were on a strained hamstring, and probably (a mere) four weeks of hard training,” Russell said. “Those are elite numbers on about 85, 90 percent. That’s what’s so crazy about it.

“At 85 percent, you tell me.”

In a word, brilliant. His broad jump would have been the second longest at the NFL Combine among cornerbacks and third best overall. Both his vertical jump and his 20-yard shuttle times would have been good enough for fifth best among cornerbacks at the NFL Combine.

Russell doesn’t normally need statistics to back up his claims, but this time, it was insurance for his unbending self-confidence.

“You have to sell yourself,” Russell said. “Everything is an evaluation to see how you move and whether you can do this and do that. They put you in stressful situations, and that’s what they did today in the 60-yard shuttle.”

Russell was encouraged by NFL personnel to give it a go despite the hamstring issue. As badly as he would have liked to prove himself right then and there, he decided to “live for another day.”

“You guys know how competitive I am,” Russell said. “Competitiveness is not an issue. I’ve got to be smart. I can’t afford to pull a hamstring right now. They tried to make me go, but at the end of the day, I had to think about the future…I’ve got a few private workouts coming up.”

Russell insists his future is comparable to the brightness of the sun. He considers himself a first-round draft choice, but anticipates second or third, which remains rather optimistic by virtually all projections up to this point.

“It fluctuates all the time talking to me agent,” said Russell – who is represented by Patrick Collins of CAA Sports – of his projected draft round.

Russell had a lengthy talk with a member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ staff after Pro Day ended. He says the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers have expressed interest. He has a workout scheduled with the Minnesota Vikings next week.

“Oh, and the Cardinals, too,” Russell said. “Big time right now.”

Russell tells a tale of extreme odds during the ’15 season, which he overcame despite chronic pain.

“I started feeling symptoms in my shin during (August) camp,” Russell said. “I was trying to get back into the game, so I was taking more reps than anybody on the field. It was overuse of my shin.

“I started feeling it in camp, but I played through it. After the USC game, I was wearing a boot for the next four or five weeks. Leading up to games, I’d wear a boot, take it off, play the game, and put it right back on.

“It finally broke on me (against Boston College). I just planted my foot and it broke. That’s how weak it was.”

Now that he’s sufficiently recovered from the injury and can show his wares well enough to rank among the draft’s top cornerbacks physically, he has no doubt that it was a risk worth taking.

“No regrets, none at all,” Russell said. “For me, as a competitor, if I never got hurt, I might have done even better today. But it made me work so much harder because not many guys would be able to compete three months later on their pro day with a broken tibia. It shows how hard I had to work.

“The stuff you go through obviously makes you stronger, right? I definitely showed I can play through being hurt. When I was able to tell those guys I played through a stress fracture? Trust me, I showed I was mentally tough.”

Russell says he’s still not 100 percent. The first two months after the injury were spent in rehabilitation, not training for the combine/draft. He says he’s been past the rehab stage for a little more than a month. By draft day and then the start of mini-camps, Russell believes he’ll be near peak performance.

 “It has definitely been frustrating, but at the end of the day, if you look at the injuries, all the numbers, and you’re top five in damn near every category?” Russell said.

“That tells you the kind of athlete you’re going to get.”

And if that doesn’t, he certainly will.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories