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Pope: Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell a sharp corner

Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell right intercepts pass intended for Southern Californiwide receiver Marqise Lee left during first half an

Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell, right, intercepts a pass intended for Southern California wide receiver Marqise Lee, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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Updated: September 7, 2014 6:35AM



CULVER — KeiVarae Russell asked the question many others were wondering.

“How can I be on the Nagurski and Bednarik, but not the Thorpe? To be on the best (defensive) player in the country watch list, but not the position, that doesn’t make sense,” Russell said with a grin after Monday’s practice at Culver Academies.

The Notre Dame cornerback is right. But he has plenty of time to show why he should be in the mix for the Thorpe Award, which goes to the top defensive back in the country.

For now, he’ll have to settle on being recognized as a preseason candidate for two watch lists while keeping the initial Thorpe snub in the back of his mind.

“I look at stuff like that because it’s so funny. I can’t wait. It’s another chip on my shoulder,” Russell said. “Another reason to work hard and show that I can be one of the best if not the best corner in the country. I’ve got work to do. I’m excited.”

As Russell showed in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl, he’s on the verge of taking that next step at Notre Dame. Russell was everywhere in that contest. He had two tackles, one interception and three pass breakups in the victory against Rutgers.

He’ll get the opportunity to showcase those skills even more with the team’s aggressive style of defense under new coordinator Brian VanGorder.

“I think he has taken on this role as one of a challenge where he wants to be that (New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle) Revis. He wants to be that (Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick) Peterson. He wants to be seen as that kind of player, and he knows he’s got some work to do. I’m not comparing him to that. I’m saying at the highest level in college,” coach Brian Kelly said Friday.

“He wants to be that kind of player. He wants to be the very best at his position, so he’s driven to be that player. He’s not there yet, so that’s his focus.

“We are pretty excited about having a player that has that kind of passion and desire to want to be a great player, and he’s moving in that direction.”

Russell doesn’t feel any added pressure to live up to the lofty standards of a lockdown corner.

“It’s accepting the challenge. I love it. I feel like I can do it,” said Russell, who had 51 tackles and eight pass breakups in 2013. “I just know that I’m not fully just there. I’m there to be a lockdown corner. I’m not there to follow a guy everywhere yet. I know I can be.

“ … It’s difficult to follow the best receiver to the slot, because the slot is different than outside receiver. That’s what I want to get to. I know I’m not there yet, but it’s Aug. 4, and I’ve got to Aug. 30. It’s a lot of time.”

Russell, if one can’t tell, isn’t shy. And with 26 starts at Notre Dame under his belt, he’s got plenty of experience to guide his teammates.

“I’m going to be a vocal person regardless. Don’t get me wrong, that would be a blessing an honor to be a captain at the University of Notre Dame. That’s crazy to think about it. If they end up putting that ‘C’ on my chest, I’ll be honored, but I will figure out a role for me regardless,” Russell said.

“Whether it’s being that vocal guy on the defense. Whether it’s being that enthusiastic guy getting everyone going, that’s just going to be me.”



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