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Freshman Focus: Elijah Shumate

May 23, 2012, 8:39 PM EDT

Elijah Shumate

(The second in a multi-part series profiling select members of the incoming class of 2012. The first installment was on wide receiver Chris Brown.)


Michigan. Miami. Oklahoma. Nebraska. They (and about a dozen other top programs) all wanted touted safety Elijah Shumate, a battering ram out of Don Bosco Prep, New Jersey’s top football training ground. Landing the vaunted defensive back, one of five new safeties to enter the depth chart come this summer, was the best recruiting grab at the position since Tom Zbikowski, a near decade drought since landing an elite safety, giving you an idea of just how badly the Irish needed to bring in a top-flight enforcer that can anchor the backend of the defense.

Shumate looks physically ready to contribute immediately, though how quickly he’ll master the finer points of being a safety remains to be seen. Let’s run the gamut as we take a look at what Shumate will bring to the Irish program come mid-June.

East Orange, NJ
6-foot-1, 205-pounds

The Skinny: Shumate was one of the best players on one of the best high school football teams in the country, a pretty positive asset. He played all over the field for Greg Toal’s Bosco team, helping to lead the squad to its sixth straight private school state title and a mythical No. 1 national ranking as a linebacker, safety, and running back.

“I can see him playing strong safety, linebacker or running back at the next level,” Toal told the Star-Ledger. “He’s got a lot of athletic ability, but he’s also got a lot of versatility. His versatility is what makes him so special.”

Early in Shumate’s recruitment, the Irish said they liked him as a running back. With Will Mahone and KeiVarae Russell filling those roster holes, that won’t likely happen.

How Ready is he? Physically, probably very ready. Sizing up Shumate at the Blue-Gold Spring game a month or so ago, he looked every bit the part of a D-I safety already. That said, he doesn’t look all that fluid in coverage in the bit of footage I’ve seen on him, so to think he’d be able to go out there as a freshman and play amidst a secondary where the only depth at the position is veteran (Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter, and Dan McCarthy) seems a little unlikely. That said, the guy just screams special teams dynamo, and if he sees the field, he’ll be in kick coverage.

Best Case Scenario: Shumate becomes the Troy Niklas of this recruiting class. A guy that we should’ve seen coming but didn’t. He’s got the pedigree, the physicality, and the athleticism. It wouldn’t be crazy to see Shumate in specialty alignments on defense, playing the role Jamoris Slaughter played in the slot or being unleashed in a pass rush situation.

Worst Case Scenario: Can’t really see a worst case here, as there’s reason to be patient with Shumate if the learning curve is steep. (Although as we’ve seen a trend with guys like Aaron Lynch and Tee Shepard leaving early, the worst case would be losing the Irish pipeline to Don Bosco Prep if Shumate doesn’t like it in the 46556.)

What Should Make People Happy: The Irish add a special teams player that makes a few high impact plays in kick coverage, and gets some time in the secondary in mop-up situations. (Any mop-up situations this year should make ND fans very happy.) We’ll likely know early in preseason camp how realistic that is, as Shumate mix of size and speed will likely make himself noticed pretty quickly in the secondary this fall.

How Badly Does the Irish Need Him? Not too badly. On a 1-10 scale, Shumate is probably a 5. He’s a building block for the future, but not an immediate need.

One Tidbit for the Road: Shumate is already hard at work trying to reel in hybrid defensive end — outside linebacker Al-Quadin Muhammad, a teammate at both Patterson Catholic and Don Bosco:

“I was on the phone with Coach Kelly because I’m trying to get Alquadin to join me with the Fighting Irish next year,” Shumate told the Star-Ledger on Signing Day. “I called the coach after I signed, I told him everything was faxed and that’s when I started talking about Quan (Alquadin) and he (Kelly) asked to speak to him. I’m trying to do my early recruiting.”

Here’s what’s Bob Lichtenfels said about Muhammad:

“Alquadin Muhammad is a prospect that I think is the closest to being a five-star from the East Region, who could earn it this season. Muhammad gets the “Tweener” tag on him a lot. Is he an outside linebacker or a defensive end? We like him at end, with his frame and ability off the edge. Once he fills out, he could be dangerous. Muhammad has freakish athletic ability. He can drop and cover as well as any linebacker.”

Big Skill position players are being targeted with more than a few remaining spots in the class and Muhammad has a pretty impressive pedigree. Any help from Shumate would likely be well received.

  1. nudeman - May 23, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    This is a good write up on a guy I was really happy to see the Irish get. I have to agree that there is virtually no way Shu doesn’t become a starter and a major contributor, probably sooner rather than later.

    Two other things worth mentioning in your write up Keith:

    1) Tom Zbikowski was the embodiment of a fierce team player who gave all he had. But he was terribly overrated as a cover guy. In fact he was a liability in the pass defense game. My enduring memory is seeing him chase guys across the goal line. To call him a “great recruiting grab” shows just how bad the Irish D has been in the last 10 years. I certainly hope Shumate is better than Z.

    2) As poor as the Irish secondary has been (1 INT last year), how can you say a guy like Shumate is only a “5” on a 10 pt scale in terms of need? Granted, CB is a bigger need, but a quality safety like this guy is higher on the list than a 5. Several untested parts or question marks there.
    Do you realize Chris Salvi, a walk on, is in the 2 deep?
    Can Collinsworth be more than just a nickel guy?
    Is Slaughter more of a safety or LB?
    And I’m sorry but I have little if any confidence in Motta suddenly becoming a ball hawk.

    So I say Shumate is badly needed. Wish he was a year older and had arrived last year.

    • joeschu - May 24, 2012 at 8:46 AM

      Just a semantic technicality, but Salvi is now an “un-recruited scholarship player.” You’re point is valid, but he’s a scholarship athlete now.

    • audomer - May 24, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      Wow, Last time I checked Zibby was the fifth man in on a stellar Baltimore Ravens defense. I guess he “learned” how to cover people.

      Also, The buzz around campus is Collinsworth might be done for the year or most of it, as he needs shoulder surgery.

      Agree with the Motta not fitting the bill.

    • 808raiderinparadise - May 25, 2012 at 4:01 PM

      I have to say ….

      Haven’t had an elite DB since maybe Shane Walton ? and thats not syaing much.

      Blanton made some plays and had an ok career.

      Lambert was … eh.

      Overall the Defense lacks big stars, Lynch was gaining tread and then bounced.

      All this makes you realize how special Manti Teo is, Wies’s best recruit. Prob ND’s best recruit in last 15 years.

  2. tonyricemajorharris - May 24, 2012 at 6:32 AM

    I can’t wait to see this kid lay the lumber on some WR’s. He has all the tools to excel at ND. Should be fun to watch over the next few years. Go Irish

  3. yllibnosredna - May 24, 2012 at 8:28 AM


    Unless you’re referring strictly to the safeties, I’m certain the Irish secondary had more than just one interception. I can recall both Blanton and Gray each getting a pick against D. Robinson vs. Michigan. (Motta had one as well–Note that while Motta and Gray each had a pick due to Robinson’s tendency to play 500 by just heaving the pigskin aimlessly into the air, both G.G. and Z.M. gave up some major back-breaking plays in the latter part of that game. In other words, neither were consistent enough to be considered very good players in my opinion). Blanton would make another clutch pick against Mich State the following week to seal the victory. But regardless of the overall number, your point is apt–nowhere near the production needed from the secondary in terms of generating turnovers. LSU’s secondary had 16 ints by the end of their regular season.

    Slaughter can play nose tackle and I’d be happy. If we had a Bama/LSU/FSU kind of defense with jaw-dropping athleticism at every position (DL is getting there and would be there with Lynch), then we could worry about whether Jamoris fits better at safety or linebacker. The reality is that he’s WAY better than any other member of the secondary so I say play him at both FS and CB, and outside of Teo, he’d probably prove to be better than any of the linebackers if given time in the system. I think next to Teo, Slaughter is the most invaluable cog in our defense. I do hope this Shumate kid can succeed him very quickly.

    While Salvi is a walk-on, maybe we can take some solace in knowing that Jordan Kovacs was a walk-on as well? Okay, his status in the two deep is certainly a cause for concern, but that lead block on the GAIII kick return against Mich. State was awesome. I’d almost rather have him out there than Motta. Although he can be opportunistic at times, Zeke will likely be picked on relentlessly against Oklahoma, USC, and a few other teams. I do think Oklahoma is going to steam-roll us. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us give up over 450+yards through the air against L. Jones and company…Prediction: OU will hand us our worst loss of the season; however, we still may have a decent season (8/9 wins).

    • nudeman - May 24, 2012 at 10:52 AM

      You are correct – the CBs, while also a team weakness, did have a few picks. Not many though.

      My point was directed toward the complete lack of production from the safety position. Motta rarely gets in a position to make a pick, and when he does usually drops it. Terrible hands.

      And I still cannot believe that Harrison Smith was a #1 pick. Yes, very athletic, hits hard and looked great in his tight fitting UnderArmor gear at his workout. But how do you go through an entire season without an INT? He was Tom Z-esque. Would always make a ferocious tackle after a receiver made a 14 yard reception on 3rd and 12. Contrary to popular opinion, I say they won’t miss him much at all.

      Anyway, point is they need Shumate badly. Glad he’s coming to SB.

  4. yllibnosredna - May 24, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    Very good article by the way.

  5. nudeman - May 24, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    On a slightly different topic, and in an attempt to even things out on the Fresno balance sheet, just saw a great interview with a kid named Michiah Quick from Fresno. Seems intelligent, humble, articulate and likes ND.

    If you’re a premium member on Rivals go check it out. He’s a DB or a WR. Looks very good on film. 2014 though

  6. franktrades - Nov 17, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    Any relation to John Shumate?

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