Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell takes nothing for granted
BY LaMOND POPE Sun-Times Media August 15, 2013 9:27PM
KeiVarae Russell, Bennie Fowler
Updated: August 15, 2013 10:38PM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — KeiVarae Russell is in line to be one of Notre Dame’s starting cornerbacks. But that hasn’t changed the way the sophomore has approached camp.
“I’m still fighting every day to keep my spot. Tomorrow, I could be a backup,” Russell said earlier this week. “I’m just trying to work at it every day. I’m not looking at it like, ‘OK, I’ve got a position locked down.’ Not at all. . . . Even if I make a play, I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve got to make more.’ ”
Russell and Bennett Jackson were Notre Dame’s starting cornerbacks for all 13 games last season. Russell had 58 tackles and two interceptions, helping the Irish overcome the loss of Lo Wood to a preseason Achilles injury.
Wood is back. But Russell and Jackson remain the starters.
“There’s no competition there other than the day-to-day competition. KeiVarae is our starter,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “Lo’s doing a great job. Physically fit. He’s had no ill effects of his injuries, competing hard, but KeiVarae is the starter.
“Just the confidence in the position. He was a first-time player at that position last year. He knows the position very well. His technique has improved immensely. He’s stronger physically. A lot more confident. All those things that come with being a returning starter.”
Russell was an all-state running back, rushing for 1,293 yards and 14 touchdowns for Mariner High School in Everett, Wash., in 2011. He came to Notre Dame and made an immediate impact defensively.
Russell said the year’s worth of experience has made the secondary a more confident group as a whole.
“Last year, we were going in to play,” Russell said. “Now we’re going in to dominate. That’s the difference.”
And with that experience comes more options.
“You could make the case that when you’re more experienced back there that you can play more on-body coverages and obviously tie down more,” Kelly said. “Whether we do or not, we certainly have that in our repertoire if we need it. When you’re less experienced, you’re more hesitant to do it. But now that opens the opportunity for us to do that if we deem it necessary.”
Note: The Sept. 7 game at Michigan will be televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN, the network announced Thursday.