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.