Freshman Focus: Elijah Shumate

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(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.)

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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.

ELIJAH SHUMATE, S
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 Scout.com’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.