KeiVarae Russell is heading to the NFL. He’ll join classmates Ronnie Stanley and C.J. Prosise as seniors exiting Notre Dame with a degree, but leaving with a year of eligibility remaining. Junior Will Fuller is also leaving the 10-win team to enter the NFL Draft.
That Russell can do so is a testament to the senior cornerback’s fortitude, battling back from a two-semester academic suspension to earn his degree. It is also likely a pragmatic decision, Russell has yet to hear from the NCAA about his eligibility for next season—an appeal is pending as the football program awaits word from Indianapolis.
Russell made the announcement via Sports Illustrated, where he provided the following quote:
“I’m back on track as far as progressing as a player,” he said. “I’m ready to fulfill my dream and help out my family and do other things I wanted to do in my life.”
Russell’s senior season wasn’t what many expected from the veteran cornerback. He returned from his year-long layoff understandably rusty, playing solid football, but not necessarily at the elite level many expected from him.
Still, he did make some big plays—crucial, game-clinching interceptions against USC and Temple before his season ended with a stress fracture in his leg suffered as he forced a fumble against Boston College. That injury will keep Russell from working out at the NFL Scouting Combine, though he’ll participate in off-field interviews. Russell plans on training and working out at Notre Dame’s Pro Day, where he’ll hope to put up the type of explosive numbers he showcased via Instagram during his year off.
“I will be healed in the next few days, but I want to be able to perform at my best with the same amount of training [others will have],” Russell told SI.com. “I want to get back to where I was and I feel like when I come back, I’m going to come back stronger.”
Russell started 37 games at cornerback for the Irish, including all 13 during his freshman season after converting from running back in fall camp. He’s played in both a zone-heavy scheme under Bob Diaco and in the exotic, mostly man coverages under Brian VanGorder. He finished the season sixth on the team in tackles in 11 games.