Author: Keith Arnold

Jackson Russell

KeiVarae Russell’s Return (or the greatest story we’re not talking about)


With the spring semester ended and graduation weekend just about on hand, another school year is in the books.

For cornerback KeiVarae Russell, that means the beginning of a long-awaited new chapter—and the conclusion of a bizarre detour. Just as Russell was primed to be Notre Dame’s defensive leader, he went from being the poster boy of what a student-athlete should be at Notre Dame to an exiled football player branded a cheater. He, along with four other teammates, were suspended by the university for Honor Code violations that ended up costing Russell a football season and two semesters at Notre Dame.

Russell has not spoken publicly about his suspension nor his departure, only releasing a statement last October after the university finally ruled on his role in the academic misdeeds.

We can thankfully move past the university’s clumsy-and-overly-clandestine review process. Russell already has—doing everything he said he was going to do when he vowed to spend his time away from school efficiently and come back in June 2015 better than ever.

Russell taken classes at a community college. He’s taken a part-time job. He’s mentored local high school students and athletes from the area. And he’s trained, fully expecting to come back to the Irish as one of the country’s premier cover cornerbacks.

While his social media chronicles have kept us up to speed on his progress (and freaky athleticism), Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson spent some time in Seattle, getting a look at Russell, who—rust and all—could very well be the Irish’s best player next season on a roster that’s more talented than any Brian Kelly’s assembled.



Russell wasn’t willing to speak officially on the record (though Sampson revealed during his podcast that Russell’s already done an interview with Sports Illustrated that’ll release sometime in June). But Sampson did speak with a large group of people Russell’s worked with this summer.

And if those comments are any indication, Russell’s going to be a man on fire when he returns to campus in the upcoming weeks.

Here’s a small sampling, from Sampson’s profile:

“He’s like a caged animal,” local trainer Ted Manson told Sampson. “You know when you go to the zoo and see that panther walking back and forth behind the cage? Looks real calm, pacing, but you don’t really want to be in the cage with him.”

And then there’s this from former high school coach at Mariner John Ondriezek.

“He never once wavered. I told him life doesn’t always go in straight lines and yours is a little curved with an obstacle to get over.”

And this evaluation of Russell the football player from former Oregon State safety Anthony Watkins, who has trained with Russell, should have Irish fans excited.

“Kei might be on another level because he has the whole package. He’s very football savvy. A lot of great athletes don’t understand football and that hinders them. With Kei, he’s able to use all his athleticism because he understands the game so well.

“He’s also a freak athlete, fast, can run, jump and he’s so strong. He should be the top corner in the draft next year.”

Sampson’s entire article is worth a read, if only because most of the offseason usually focuses on the departures and storm clouds that annually seem to surround the program. But no roster attrition takes away from the football team that’ll begin taking shape come June—with Russell returning immediately to a leadership role.

Russell’s return has been discussed by Brian Kelly, though only in general terms. And while his re-enrollment is awaiting the university’s rubber stamp, it’s by all reports in process and on track.

So while this month’s story is certainly Everett Golson, next month’s should be Russell. And after paying dearly for a mistake, Russell is more than deserving of a second chance to be the team’s star.

Mailbag: Life after Golson (and an update on comments)

New Mailbox

We’ll get to the mailbag questions, but first a quick housekeeping update. In case you missed it yesterday, I made a change to the previously unfiltered commenting protocols.

For those who have ventured “down below,” It’s been a cesspool. Not because of everybody, but because of a few characters who take great pleasure in ruining nice things. And that’s actually turned some usually thoughtful people into less thoughtful people—bringing out the worst in some of the longest-tenured, enjoyable members of this community as the general standards of pleasantness have gotten long forgotten.

So thanks to some help from WordPress VIP, I’ll be monitoring some I.P. addresses and accounts. It’s the absolute last thing that I want to do with my time, but it’s beyond overdue. Especially as we move into the offseason, where community participation and conversation is much needed and will make this place much more enjoyable.

So if you’ve been a part of our problem, it will be addressed. Apologies for subjectivity, but there’s no Troll Tribunal. So if somebody says something mean or something that you deem “ban worthy,” whatever you do, don’t start calling for the hook or sending me messages. That’s beyond lame. Feel free to police your own words, and know that I’ll be coming around every so often to both participate and make sure things are running smoothly.

To be clear: This isn’t a war on criticism, it’s merely the end of idiocy and blatant trolling. If you want to spray-paint inflammatory comments on a wall at your place of business, go right ahead. I’m just going to take away the paint-cans at mine.

Most people tell me I’m wasting my time trying to make the comments section a better place. Maybe I am. But there’s no reason we can’t have a reasoned conversation—with a variety of viewpoints—without turning things toxic.

So if you’ve got a feud simmering on the board, end it. If you’ve wanted to comment, but been way too annoyed because of certain jerks, come on back and give it another try. If you’ve reveled in being an annoyance or a moron, find somewhere else to do it. Because you’re comments will start going straight to spam.


Using that as a wonderful segue, that’s exactly what Notre Dame is doing. So perhaps we can view this mailbag through that lens—discussing what the Irish will look like without Golson behind center.

(Or not. It’s your mailbag.)

Drop your questions below. Or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

Looking forward to a fresh start.


Swarbrick denies blocking Golson’s transfer options as rumors swirl

Everett Golson

First came the news that Everett Golson was leaving. Now comes the circus, as we take to the rumor mill to speculate where Golson ends up.

The former Notre Dame quarterback will be free to transfer and play immediately once he earns his diploma. But where he ends up is anyone’s guess. And maybe some unexpected parties—including the SEC and Notre Dame’s athletic department—could have a say in that process.

Some of the earliest speculation as to where Golson would land focused on Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl opponent: LSU. With strong personnel and no true favorite at quarterback, many thought Golson would look to Les Miles and former NFL head coach and current Tigers’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for a chance.

Some have also thought returning to home to play for South Carolina made sense as well. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks also seemingly have a hole at quarterback—and interest in their hometown quarterback— that could make Golson a one-year replacement.

But an SEC transfer rule could make that impossible, especially taking into consideration Golson’s academic mishap at Notre Dame that cost him the 2013 season. Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee dug into the rulebook and came out with SEC bylaw Graduate Student Exception.

Golson’s semester suspension for academic dishonesty clearly runs afoul with provision (d):

“The student-athlete has not been subject to official university or athletics department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution (excluding limited discipline applied by a sports team).”

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, who was the first to get his hands on a comment from Golson, also pointed out the two-year eligibility rule within the SEC bylaws. Bizarrely, it appears that the SEC rules only make way for transfers with multiple seasons of eligibility, not graduate transfer cases, without acquiring a waiver.

“A student-athlete who, upon enrollment at the certifying institution, has less than two years of eligibility remaining, is not eligible for financial aid, practice or competition at the member institution. A member institution may request a waiver from the Conference office for a student-athlete transferring from an institution discontinuing a sport, provided that the student-athlete cannot complete his or her eligibility at the institution discontinuing the sport, or for a student-athlete transferring for the purpose of enrolling in an academic program not offered at the institution from which he or she is transferring.”

News Monday evening started circling Florida State as a potential landing spot. 247 Sports’ first reported that the Seminoles were the odds-on favorite to land Golson. The ACC program has a very large hole to fill after Jameis Winston left early to go No. 1 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and only junior Sean Maguire with experience.

That news is similar to what I heard from a source late last week with connections to the Golson family. Per that source, Golson is “90-percent sure on Florida State,” and has been aimed that way since before Notre Dame’s bowl game.

Golson’s next home will depend on not just SEC rules, but also Notre Dame’s approval rights. Per Feldman’s report, Notre Dame has blocked Texas and select Big Ten programs from Golson’s choices.

That was met with some furor on social media, though athletic director Jack Swarbrick was quick to go on the record and say that wasn’t true.

“It’s just not true,” Swarbrick told the Orlando Sentinel ACC spring meetings. “The way this process works is a student identifies schools they would like to consider and we have not denied a single school that Everett Golson identified as one he has an interest in going to.”

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, who dropped the initial news that Golson was leaving agreed with Swarbrick.

With another ESPN report listing Alabama as another finalist, along with “at least one Pac-12 school,” it looks like Golson won’t be reuniting with Chuck Martin or Bob Diaco. McMurphy writes that Golson is only interested in playing for a Power 5 conference.

With graduation scheduled for this weekend, Golson’s final decision needs to come between now and early June, when most teams report for summer classes and workouts. So expect the news to come fast and furious until a final decision is made.