Notre Dame alum and Irish secondary coach Todd Lyght has a message to all the top-rated cornerbacks and safeties in the country that have what it takes to play in the secondary for the Irish.
Want an opportunity to play at the highest level right from the outset? Don’t want to sit around waiting for your chance to come much further down the road? Ready to hit the ground running on the collegiate level?
Come to Notre Dame, compete with intensity and intelligence, and your chance to make an instant impact may be right around the corner.
“We’ve got to recruit bigger, faster, stronger,” said Lyght, a standout for the Irish early in his career with the Irish, an eventual All-American, a first-round draft choice and a long-time cornerback in “the league.”
“I want to recruit guys that have the ability to play on Sunday. I want guys that want to excel in the classroom and on the field. We need guys to come in and play right away. That’s what it’s got to be in order for us to compete for championships.”
Lyght, of course, is not going to promise anyone a starting role upon arrival. That has to be earned on the practice field.
But with early-entry freshman Devin Studstill getting first-team snaps this spring ahead of senior-to-be free safety Max Redfield, the blueprint for early success is on display at Notre Dame.
“I was talking to some young men last night, some of the top (high school) talent across the country,” Lyght said. “I explained Devin Studstill’s situation. He’s a young guy, an early enrollee and he’s running with the ones.
“The thing I love about Coach (Brian) VanGorder is he knows we’re going to put the best 11 guys on the field, no matter what grade they’re in and no matter how long they’ve been in the program. If they can help us win and be productive players, they’re going to play right now.”
Of course, this is all easier said than done. Lyght admits the Irish have first-, second- and third-teamers on the field this spring, but no starters. That will come when the time is right, which is August.
But with Drue Tranquill, Avery Sebastian and Devin Butler coming off injuries, Nick Watkins suffering a broken humerus over the weekend, and only senior-to-be Cole Luke set as a returning starter, the competition in the Irish secondary is as open as any area on the team.
One young guy who definitely will be on the field for the Irish this fall is sophomore-to-be Shaun Crawford, who won the starting nickel job last August, only to miss the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL.
Crawford is healthy and back at it this spring. He may start at a cornerback slot opposite Luke; he may stay at the nickel position since he played it so well before the pre-season injury. One way or another, he’ll be on the field this fall.
“Shaun is a real football guy,” Lyght said. “He loves the game, he studies the game, he works at it really hard. He did a great job in the off-season working to get back and has been doing really well. We’re really pleased with his progress.”
Studstill is still competing with Redfield, whom Lyght says has responded well to the threat of the young upstart. But one way or another, Studstill will see action this fall.
“He’s an all-in guy,” said Lyght of Studstill. “He’s a program guy. He’s done a great job of picking up the defense. Obviously, he’s made some mistakes because he’s still young and still learning the defense. But he’s done a great job with his attitude and effort.”
Tranquill figures to be smack dab in the mix as well after playing an integral role in each of his first two seasons in the program before his freshman and sophomore campaigns were truncated by torn ACLs – one in each knee.
“Drue Tranquill is such an interesting athlete because of his size, his strength, his power and his speed combination,” Lyght said. “We can move him around a lot because of his football intelligence. We can put him at strong safety, we can put him at free safety, we can put him as an outside backer, we can put him in the Joker position…
“When you move a guy around like that with that position versatility, it really strengthens your defense.”
Other youngsters in the mix include sophomore-to-be cornerbacks Nick Coleman and Ashton White, early-entry safety Spencer Perry, sophomore-to-be safety Nicco Fertitta, and soon-to-be-arriving freshmen such as Donte’ Vaughn, Julian Love and Troy Pride, Jr. at cornerback and Jalen Elliott and D.J. Morgan at safety.
In the secondary, Lyght believes a little bit of knowledge, coupled with elite-level athleticism, can cure a lot of ills.
“When you have speed and athleticism, especially on the back end, you’ve got to be able to match up against the level of competition we play,” Lyght said.
“Devin Studstill is a great example of coming in and making plays. We’ll have some young guys who will come in this fall that are going to be able to make an impact right away, too.
“We’ve got to play the most athletic guys that give us a chance to make plays on the back end, guys that can prevent big plays so we can be successful defensively.”
A prospect Lyght repeatedly has cited as a strong candidate for early playing time is Elliott, a former high school quarterback with natural safety instincts.
“Jalen Elliott is a warrior,” Lyght said. “He’s going to come in and help us right away.
“Donte Vaughn is a long corner who can run. Love will work inside and outside, and Pride, with his speed, is going to be tremendous as a field corner.”
The numbers and competition in the Irish secondary are so good, Lyght is setting his sights high on the recruiting trail.
“I want to be really selective,” Lyght said. “I think we can target some of the top 10 guys at each position and be able to pull some of those guys into our program.
“When you have young guys coming in and making an impact, that trends well for young players because they understand there’s opportunity.”
Rarely is an Irish secondary so unsettled in the spring. Rarely does it offer this many exciting options.
“You can’t get frustrated by young guys making mistakes because that’s going to happen,” Lyght said. “Some guys need to rep 10 times, some guys need to rep 100 times.
“You’ve got to try to figure out which way they learn best and try to incorporate that in practice so their development will be faster.”