You probably didn’t expect to see Elijah Shumate and Cole Luke among the most important players on the emerging Notre Dame defense. But the junior safety and sophomore cornerback were both thrust into starting roles, with captain Austin Collinsworth injuring his knee 48 hours before the season opener and cornerback KeiVarae Russell losing the season due to an Honor Code violation discovered this summer.
But in a program built around the “Next Man In” mantra, Shumate and Luke have done just that, thriving in their roles in Kerry Cooks’ secondary, playing in an entirely new system under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Shumate talks about the work that you put in to do that, a safety who contributed early as a freshman nickel back before struggling as a sophomore as injuries and a transition to safety slowed him down. Now Shumate’s been forced to slide between strong and free safety, taking on an especially difficult role against Purdue as he shifted roles to help freshman Drue Tranquill. Now Shumate’s playing in a three man rotation with Collinsworth and Max Redfield that gets the Irish’s best athletes onto the field.
That Luke is thriving as a sophomore isn’t surprising. That he’s forced to be an every down cornerback is. But with Russell out, Luke starts opposite Cody Riggs, making his presence felt last weekend with two key interceptions against Stanford. Luke’s confidence and self-belief are pretty evident when you see him speak.