ND A to Z: Cole Luke

With the departure of KeiVarae Russell, the Irish will turn to Luke for leadership in secondary where as many as three new starters could join the former four-star prospect.

One of the nation’s top cornerbacks at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz., in 2012, Luke was ranked in one recruiting service’s top 100. Scout listed him as the No. 21 cornerback and No. 185 player overall.

Luke helped lead the Huskies to a 12-2 record and the Arizona Division I state title under the leadership of head coach/former Notre Dame quarterback-wide receiver Steve Belles. As a junior, Luke returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns.

Luke saw action in all 13 games of his freshman season for the Irish in 2013, mainly on special teams, which helped him accrue 15 tackles. He was credited with half-a-tackle for loss and two passes defensed. Six of those tackles came in a reserve role against Air Force. He has since started the last 26 games for the Irish at cornerback.

Luke was outstanding in his debut season as the starting cornerback opposite Cody Riggs in 2014. His 11 pass breakups were the most by an Irish defender since Raeshon McNeil’s 11 in 2008 and the most since Dave Waymer’s 12 in 1978. He also tied for the team-lead in interceptions with four, including two vs. Stanford. Luke was credited with 15 passes defensed and 48 tackles as a sophomore.

Luke’s numbers diminished as a junior in 2015. He finished with 41 tackles and seven passes defensed. He did, however, add two more interceptions, including one against Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.

Luke adds to the longest current consecutive start streak (26) on the team and builds upon the form that earned him recognition as one of the top young cornerbacks in the country during the 2014 season. Luke continues to show the improvement that he flashed against the run in the Blue-Gold Game – emerging as the veteran leader of a young secondary -- and positions himself for strong consideration in the spring of the ’17 NFL draft.

Luke’s lack of top-level speed shows itself in ’16 as the Irish struggle to generate a pass rush, thus leaving Notre Dame’s secondary in some difficult situations against quarterbacks with time to throw.

Although his development/emergence in the lineup came more slowly than it did for Luke, 5-foot-11, 188-pound Mike Richardson evolved into one of Notre Dame’s most consistent cornerbacks late in the Tyrone Willingham era and into Charlie Weis’ reign. He would cap his five-year stint at Notre Dame with four interceptions in 2006 to lift his career total to eight with 160 career tackles in 30 starts.

Heading into his final season with the Irish, the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Luke has 104 career tackles to go along with six interceptions, putting him on a statistical pace very comparable to Richardson’s.

As a prospect whose overall ranking with Scout was a bit lower than it was for other recruiting services, Luke has reached the statistical productivity expected of a four-star cornerback prospect with six career interceptions in two years as a starter. His play was more inconsistent as a junior than it was as a sophomore. But he’s still in line to finish his collegiate career on a high note and give himself a shot at landing a roster spot in the NFL.

One-quarter (two of eight) of Kevin Hogan’s interceptions during his third year as Stanford’s starting quarterback were snagged by Luke, who helped the Irish limit the Cardinal to just 205 yards total offense in Notre Dame’s 17-14 victory in 2014. The performance was even more noteworthy the week after Luke and the Irish allowed 294 yards passing to Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt.

“Cole had a great developmental year (in 2014). I don’t think he’s played as well as he hoped to this season. He really understands the game. He’s very bright. He does a good job of managing the game and adjusting. But I think he would have liked to be more productive.”
-- DC Brian VanGorder in Phoenix prior to Jan. 1, 2016 Fiesta Bowl

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