Notre Dame Football: Lo Wood

Wood to play at Miami (Ohio)

January, 16, 2014
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Add one more familiar face to Chuck Martin's inaugural roster at Miami (Ohio). Former Notre Dame cornerback Lo Wood will play his fifth season with the RedHawks, his father, Lo Wood Sr., told ESPN.com on Thursday morning.

"Lo feels very comfortable with Coach Martin," Wood Sr. said. "He gave Lo his first chance to get on the field as a defensive back as a freshman at Notre Dame."

Wood joins former Irish quarterback Andrew Hendrix and tight end Alex Welch in moving to Oxford, Ohio, to join Martin, who accepted the RedHawks' head-coaching job on Dec. 3 after four years as a Fighting Irish assistant.

Martin coached Notre Dame's safeties for two seasons before becoming the program's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012. The former position helped him connect with Wood, a cornerback who saw playing time immediately as a freshman in 2010.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound Wood was on track to become one of the Irish's starting corners in 2012 before tearing his left Achilles during a preseason practice, costing him his junior season. Then-true freshman KeiVarae Russell took over and never looked back, starting every game the last two seasons as Wood saw mostly reserve action.

Wood, an Apopka, Fla., native, finishes his Irish career with 31 career tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one pick-six, which he recorded in the third quarter of a 45-21 win over Maryland on Nov. 12, 2011.

"Coach Martin said he would love the opportunity for Lo to get back into his man-to-man speciality," Wood Sr. said.

Notre Dame mailblog

December, 24, 2013
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And this year for Christmas, Santa brings … a mailbag!

Frank Serra writes: Who do you feel will be granted a fifth year at ND?

Matt Fortuna: Frank, if I had to guess right now, I'd say Austin Collinsworth and Christian Lombard are the most likely to come back if they want to. Kendall Moore is a possibility as well. As for the others? Lo Wood has already decided to play elsewhere next semester. There are reports of Andrew Hendrix and Alex Welch seeking other options. There is usually a surprise or two every year, but it is tough to say right now who could fit into the picture next season.

Todd from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: Do you put any credence in the theory that on teams with depth that an injury-plagued season, while disappointing, can provide a boost to the next season since younger players got a lot of playing time and experience that they might not have gotten? This could really help on defense and the O-line where multiple starters are moving on. Or am I just trying to desperately put a positive spin on an uneven 2013 campaign?

Matt Fortuna: Todd, nice try. (Kidding.) There are, though, obvious silver linings when younger players are forced to play so quickly. Was it in Notre Dame's best interest to lose two games in November? Of course not. But the fact the Irish were able to compete against strong competition with vastly depleted lines and with young players getting their feet wet certainly should alleviate some concerns about those guys as they enter the 2014 season.

Jeff from Ontario, Canada writes: If Everett Golson gets readmitted to the university, shouldn't he be able to participate in everything with the university (traveling with the team or at least practicing)?

Matt Fortuna: Obviously this question came before Golson was readmitted. But since I've gotten similar questions this month, I'll try to explain it here. Basically Golson has been readmitted to start classes at Notre Dame for the spring semester, so he is not technically a student there until classes resume there on Jan. 12, 2014. So he would not be able to participate as a Notre Dame student-athlete in competition until then, though he is certainly able to pay his own way to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and join his teammates on his own if he would like. (And as Brian Kelly said he may do, considering his girlfriend lives in New York.)

Andrew Sama from South Bend, Ind., writes: Great article on the "Echoes" preview. Definitely agree on TJ Jones for team MVP. Folston and Jaylon Smith should probably be offensive / defensive frosh of the year but honorable mention should go to Corey Robinson. Kid had a great year and got better as the season progressed. Big things ahead for him. Sleeper candidate for defensive POY would be Dan Fox. Led the team in tackles I believe and responded to a mid-season benching like a true team leader, then came back and played his heart out. It would behoove the coaching staff to reward a kid like that with something. Keep up the great work -- Go Irish!Andrew

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Andrew. Prince Shembo ended up winning the defensive player of the year honors, with Fox and Chris Watt sharing the Nick Pietrosante Award (courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication). The honor seems to fit both fifth-year seniors, each of whom had to deal with different problems during their final year at Notre Dame. As you mentioned, Fox led the team in tackles (90) and seemed to turn a corner after it looked like he would lose his starting job to Jarrett Grace. He also played the Mike and Will inside without complaint, and it certainly seemed like he was playing his best ball of the season in November.

William Wheaton from Illinois writes: Hey Matt, diehard Irish fan here! And my question today is concerned with the departure of both offensive and defensive coordinators, who and when are the Irish going to be after. And with the change imminent, what is it going to do to our offense being Everett Golson is back. Will we still be running the pro-style offense that Tommy Rees has been operating this year or will it be the option attack that Everett Golson led us to the title game with?

Matt Fortuna: William, I highly doubt that Kelly would bring in someone with a completely new idea for the offense considering the success he has had throughout his career, though obviously a Kelly offense will ideally look more like the ones he had at Cincinnati, given that he now has a mobile quarterback seemingly tailormade for the role. I would not be surprised if Kelly put Mike Denbrock and/or Tony Alford in charge of the offense full time, and simply hire a new position coach. The bigger concern would probably be finding the right fit on defense, especially with the likely personnel losses about to come on that side of the ball next year, and especially with so many ties between all of the coaches on that side of the ball.
Here is Part 2 of our conversation with Brian Kelly.

Fifth-year guys. I know Lo (Wood) and Alex (Welch) reportedly are not coming back. What can you share about those conversations you've had with them or any other players? Is there anyone else you know about at this time?

[+] EnlargeChris Watt
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesNotre Dame guard Chris Watt injured his knee vs. Stanford.
Brian Kelly: Well, here's what we do. Those guys that have accelerated their academics to get their degree by the end of this year with a year remaining, I meet with all of them and I lay out the fact that they have roles on this team. Each one of them has a role. And they either accept that role or, because they have put themselves in a position where they have their degree, they've essentially increased their options. Some don't have options, right? Some of those guys don't have the degrees, so they have very little option, in terms of, they can only accept their role within the program. Some of these guys have more options. Some of the guys that I think have talked to the media have more options, they can choose to look at other programs. Each one of these guys I meet with, we go over the role that they have in the program, they either accept that role or they choose to, if they can, look at other options. And the two that you mentioned have obviously looked at other options.

Will those guys remain and practice through the bowl game, or are they kind of out of there the minute they graduate?

BK: I haven't gotten a chance to really talk to them about that yet. We're going to sit down here once I get my schedule set and we begin practice this weekend, I'll have a meeting with all those guys that have asked. The only guy I've talked to is Lo Wood about asking for a release.

Moving forward, Chris Watt, I know he took a pretty nasty hit the other night. What can you share about him?

BK: MCL. He's got a first-degree MCL, so that's, to most people, pretty significant. To Chris Watt, that's a papercut. So he's a pretty tough kid. If he can play, he's going to try to play. The only thing that makes it a little bit more difficult is he's got a torn PCL in the same knee. So he's lost a lot of his stability in that knee. We're going to see how it responds here over the next five-to-seven days. But first-degree MCL.

That's a sprain, I'd imagine?

BK: Yeah that would be a sprain. I'm sorry. That would be a moderate sprain of the MCL.

You've got a while now before you play at home again. How important will it be to resolve whatever issues there are with the playing surface? I know it seems every year like, 'Field Turf could come! Field Turf could come!' What will those conversations be like, if they haven't already taken place?

BK: It is paramount to our home-field situation, relative to playing and continued success. And I think I've put Jack (Swarbrick) out on the spot on this and he's addressed it. He's had a series of meetings and I'm very confident that we're going to have the field situation resolved in a very short period of time.

Speaking of next year, it's rare at least publicly to not have a schedule announced at this point. I'm sure you know a lot more behind the scenes than we do, but when do you expect maybe a public announcement, and how much more involved are you in conversations like this going from your fourth to fifth year now?

BK: Yeah, I'm involved in the schedule. But as you know, the ACC schedule bites a lot of that up and then there's still some long-term commitments going back to Knute Rockne that tie our hands. So when you're locked into some contracts -- Navy for one, Stanford, USC, Purdue. Now you're talking about six ACC games, and then another three or four. It doesn't give me much wiggle room. So as much as I'd like to say that I'm at the forefront of shaping a schedule, there's not a lot of wiggle room in these schedules right now. We're trying to do our best to balance it out, and I think 2014, you're going to see four ACC teams, and then in '15 I think we're going to get to six.

I'm sorry -- six ACC teams you said?

BK: Yeah, we're contracted obviously by the ACC but because of our Arizona State contract, Arizona State has to stay on the schedule, so we're not going to be able to play all of the ACC games next year. So we'll have to add another one in '15.

I'd imagine the conference has been fairly flexible with you guys in working these things out over the last couple of months?

BK: Yeah they have been, in terms of moving from an early game to a late game. And again, from our standpoint, we're still easing into this over the next year in trying to make all of these contracts the were pre-existing work.

Going off that, talking from an administrative standpoint, again, four, going on five years now on the job, what do you find yourself still learning about? How much more proactive have you been in some of these other conversations as it relates to the state of the program? How has each year — whether it's this one, last one, whatever — kind of contributed to that?

BK: I think the biggest piece here is academics and degrees, and we want to make it so we don't have this race to get a degree. We need kids to be pacing themselves to get a degree so we've got a much more mature team. We need a more mature football team. We need guys here for four and five years, and that's something that we have to look at in terms of how many hours our guys are taking and really do a very good job of pacing ourselves in terms of our academic preparedness here. We're moving a little bit to a point where we've got all these guys getting their degrees in three-and-a-half years, and that's great, but we also need a more mature football team. So getting my hands around that balance, academically and athletically, is the next stage of developing consistency in a much more -- we need a more veteran, much more mature football team moving forward.

8-4 is not where you guys want to be. You beat Michigan State, though. You beat Arizona State. You beat USC. What do you take from this season? I know it seems like a lot of the goals, at least from the outside, looked off the table the minute Everett went down. How would you just kind of encapsulate the 12 games you guys played this fall?

BK: We're a couple plays, couple players -- the foundation is solid. We've got enough in place. We need certainly better play at a few positions, but feel really good about the overall strength of the program where you can win games like we've won this year. But certainly consistency at some key positions and continuing to build the depth within the program. But feel good about the overall program. Need to get some key positions to play at a higher level.
Brian Kelly AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillDecember is a busy time of year for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Notre Dame's 27-20 loss Saturday night at Stanford completed Brian Kelly's fourth regular season with the Irish, who went 8-4. Now comes the busy time, as he is dealing with recruiting, staff turnover, potential NFL departures on his roster and, most importantly for the immediate future, figuring out where and when the Irish's bowl game will be. (Sorry, Subway alums in New York.)

On Tuesday, Kelly was promoting his involvement Tuesday with the VIZIO BCS National Championship Fan Throwdown contest, and he chatted with ESPN.com. Here is part 1 of that conversation.

(Of note: This interview took place before reports surfaced that Notre Dame lost its offensive coordinator, Chuck Martin, to Miami of Ohio, where he will become the RedHawks' next head coach.)

It's recruiting season, and some of the, relatively speaking, downtime you guys have now between the end of the regular season and the bowl …

BK: Downtime. Yeah, right. It's the busiest time. (Laughs)

Relatively speaking, as I said, what is the timeline now for some of the guys who have NFL decisions to make? What are the processes like with you and Stephon (Tuitt) and Louis (Nix) and whoever else may be thinking about it?

BK: We submit the paperwork to the NFL for their pre-draft status. I like to have that information. Then we put together all their academic work relative to what they may need, what they've taken, all that to make sure that we know exactly where they are academically in terms of pursuing their degree and finishing up their work. And then the third piece is we get a lot of information from third-party contacts that I have, relative to what they may look like next year if they come back. I did that with Manti (Te'o), I did that with Tyler (Eifert), I did that with Michael Floyd and really recruit them back to Notre Dame based upon all the information that we put together. Sometimes it's better that they move on to the NFL. Sometimes it's a better situation for them to stay and have another year here. So we'll put all that together. That's what we're doing. We're compiling that information right now, and we'll meet with them sometime next week.

From your philosophy, do you have a rule of thumb where you say, "Hey, you look like you're going to be a first-round pick. It's probably best if you go." Or is it kind of a more open-minded, two-way street with you?,

BK: No, Manti was really close to being a first-round pick with his pre-draft rating as a junior. He was rated between a first and a third; he wasn't a guaranteed first. Michael was between a one and a three as well. There's no sure things in the first round. Unless you're like Jadeveon Clowney or somebody that you know is going to be a top-five pick, I think we re-recruit you, unless you've already got your degree in hand and we know that with a great certainty you're going to be a No. 1 pick. We try to put the information in front of you that allows you to get your degree and increase your opportunity to help Notre Dame and help yourself for the future.

Between Manti, Michael and a couple of other guys, you've had a lot of success in re-recruiting some of these guys. What's that speak to what you've built in the program here in these four years?

BK: First of all, it's the degree at Notre Dame -- that's huge. Each one is different. Zack Martin was between a second- and a fifth-round draft pick. He could've gone, but he wanted to play with his brother. So I think each one of them has different circumstances, but they enjoy being in the program. So what we've built is an atmosphere and an environment that the guys enjoy being here every day and that speaks to the morale and that speaks to the direction of the program. But there are so many other things here as well in terms of the degree, in terms of being able to come back and know that they're on a great platform at Notre Dame, that if they play well and the team wins it enhances their chance of moving up as well.

[+] EnlargeGolson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondIt's unlikely that Everett Golson would participate in bowl practices for Notre Dame.
Switching gears a little bit, what do you know or what can you say about the status of Everett Golson right now?

BK: I've been assured that based upon all of the information that has been provided that he's going to be re-admitted on Dec. 13, and that information has been provided to admissions and it's just a matter of them sending out the admittance letter and then him being back on campus sometime around the 15th of December.

You've talked about possibly integrating him into bowl practices. What would be the process with that? What would you hope to get out of him in that limited time?

BK: Now that I'm looking at the schedule and the kind of bowls that we're looking at right now, if he comes back on, let's say the 16th, we're not going to practice again because we're leaving probably on the 20th, 21st, somewhere in there. I really don't even think he'll have a chance to practice, now that we're looking at bowl games that are going to be happening before the 29th of December. It's unlikely, given the timetable, that he would even practice.

Can he travel with you guys to the game?

BK: He cannot, no. He cannot travel to a competition site.

Speaking of bowls, what are you thinking of in terms of options here? I know you've said this will be a reward for the seniors; they seem pretty opposed to cold weather. Would that rule out New York? How open-minded is this process right now?

BK: I don't think it's open-minded. I think we've narrowed it down considerably. I'd say there's probably three bowls that we're looking at. But I think we're really down to a narrow focus on the bowl game situations. And again, I think just to give you a bit of an idea, we tie into ACC bowls next year, and so we'll be part of that rotation beginning next year. So we'd like to examine bowls that are not tied into the ACC for one last go-around, and so our focus is on not being tied into some of those ACC games right now. And we'll see how that plays out.

Irish lunch links

August, 22, 2013
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Meeeeeedia day!
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has suffered a season-ending injury in its secondary for the second straight fall camp, as sophomore safety Nicky Baratti dislocated his shoulder Saturday and will need surgery, coach Brian Kelly announced on Monday.

Baratti, who missed the spring after surgery on the same shoulder, was seen working with the second-team defense during the Fighting Irish's most recent open practice.

Baratti, a Tomball, Texas native, appeared in all 13 games last season as a freshman, notching eight total tackles and an interception, which came in the end zone during a 13-6 win over Michigan in Week 4.

Notre Dame had lost potential starting cornerback Lo Wood during last year's preseason camp to a season-ending Achilles injury, and it then lost starting safety Jamoris Slaughter to the same injury in a Week 3 win at Michigan State, further depleting what was an already-thin secondary.

The defensive backs are much more apt to handle a blow this time around, as the group brings back safety Austin Collinsworth — who also missed last season, following shoulder and back surgeries — and welcomes in four-star safety Max Redfield. Kelly praised junior Eilar Hardy and redshirt freshman John Turner as well.
No. 14 returns after a freshman All-America campaign.

No. 14: KeiVarae Russell, CB

Previous ranking: No. 22

Making the case: Russell will have to hold off redshirt junior Lo Wood for the starting field corner spot this fall, but he is a year older and eight pounds heavier as he looks to build off a surprising first year as a starter. A running back recruit who was then thrust into a starting role in the secondary following Wood's preseason Achilles tear, Russell went on to notch 58 total tackles, including two for loss and half a sack, to go with two interceptions, two break-ups, four passes defended and one quarterback hurry. He is the Irish's third-leading returning tackler this season, and a player who did not lack for confidence going into Year 1. Having more than held his own against passing attacks like USC's and Oklahoma's last season, Russell will look to take the next step during his sophomore campaign and help Notre Dame have defensive success similar to last year's.

The countdown

No. 15 Christian Lombard

No. 16 Sheldon Day

No. 17 Carlo Calabrese

No. 18 Jarrett Grace

No. 19 Amir Carlisle

No. 20 Troy Niklas

No. 21 Elijah Shumate

No. 22 C.J. Prosise

No. 23 Ishaq Williams

No. 24 Kyle Brindza

No. 25 Greg Bryant

Key questions heading into camp

August, 1, 2013
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Notre Dame officially starts fall camp this Monday at the Shiloh Park Retreat and Conference Center in Marion, Ind. But head coach Brian Kelly will unofficially kick things off Friday at noon ET when he holds a press conference previewing camp and the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III
Matt Cashore/US PresswireGeorge Atkinson III rushed for 361 yards and five TDs last season.
Here's a look at some pressing questions heading into camp, most of which will have no real answer until more than a handful of practices are in the books.

1. How will the backfield shape up? This has been among the most popular questions I've received in the offseason mailbag, at least among those still on the team. George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel have the most experience as they enter their junior years, with Atkinson figuring to be the guy to get the initial start. Amir Carlisle looked ready to break out in the spring before breaking his collarbone, and he could serve as a dual threat in the slot. Four-star freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston are talented enough to make immediate impacts, and William Mahone is now in the mix after redshirting during his first season in South Bend.

2. How will the O-line holes be filled? Nick Martin appeared to have the edge over Matt Hegarty at center during spring, with Conor Hanratty taking most of the No. 1 reps at right guard. Will things hold steady, or is it possible Ronnie Stanley becomes too good to ignore, perhaps forcing returning starting right tackle Christian Lombard into the right guard spot to make room for Stanley to his right?

3. Who starts in the secondary? Notre Dame has a good numbers problem among its defensive backs, as it returns three starters and a handful of other contributors who are now healthy. Bennett Jackson figures to start again, likely at the boundary, but returning starter KeiVarae Russell will likely have a big battle on his hands from Lo Wood, who is back after tearing his Achilles during last year's camp. Safety Elijah Shumate ran mostly with the first-team during the spring and should compete with Nicky Baratti and Austin Collinsworth, who is back from shoulder and back surgeries that forced him to miss all of last season. Collinsworth could play a role on the punt return unit, too.

4. What can we expect from Malik Zaire? With Everett Golson and three other scholarship quarterbacks in the fold when Zaire enrolled, it seemed unlikely that the lefty could forge a path to the field this fall. Then Gunner Kiel transferred to Cincinnati, and Golson got suspended from school for the fall shortly after. Zaire's growth was likely accelerated after a strong spring and the ensuing position losses, as there remains a chance he could gain some valuable playing time this fall with only Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix ahead of him.
2012 record: 12-1

2012 conference record: N/A

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, RT Christian Lombard, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix, LB Dan Fox, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Danny Spond, LB Prince Shembo, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley

Key losses

RB Theo Riddick, RB Cierre Wood, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, RG Mike Golic Jr., DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Riddick (917 yards, 5 TDs)

Passing: Golson* (187-of-318 for 2,405 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Eifert (685 yards, 4 TDs)

Tackles: Te'o (113)

Sacks: Tuitt* (12)

Interceptions: Te'o (7)

Spring answers

1. Golson in charge of offense. Now in his second year as the starting quarterback, Golson is in charge of what Brian Kelly hopes will become a quarterback-driven offense. Golson has been much more vocal on and off the field since the 2012 season, and the hope is that he can help the offense dictate the pace of the game week to week this fall.

2. Jarrett Grace ready to step up. Te'o leaves a giant hole in the middle of the Irish defense after three-straight 100-plus tackle seasons, but Grace looks ready to step in and assume the starting role. Will he notch seven interceptions this season, like Te'o in 2012? Unlikely. But the staff has liked his progress from the get-go, and he has not been fazed by all of the hoopla surrounding the "Mike" position since Te'o's departure.

3. DB depth. Last season, the Irish entered the fall with two new starting cornerbacks. By Week 3, they were down Lo Wood and safety Jamoris Slaughter because of Achilles injuries. This year Wood is back, as is safety Austin Collinsworth, adding plenty of depth to a secondary that returns three starters. It will give the defense much more flexibility after the unit broke in three new starters in 2012. Several talented safety recruits are on the way, too.

Fall questions

1. Backfield answers. George Atkinson III is the most experienced of the backs, bulking up this offseason and readying for the closest thing to a No. 1 role that the Irish offense allows. Cam McDaniel has been reliable in limited action, and USC transfer Amir Carlisle impressed the staff before going down with another injury, this time a broken collarbone that kept him out for most of the spring. There is Will Mahone and a pair of four-star recruits on the way as well, but the bottom line is that none have handled a majority of the carries at the college level yet and are filling big shoes from last season in Riddick and Cierre Wood.

2. Receiver depth. Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson transferred this spring, leaving the Irish with a bit of a numbers issue. C.J. Prosise has converted to a full-time receiver and could compete for the starting slot role for 2013, but a group already down four of its top six pass-catchers from 2012 can ill-afford another injury or defection, and will likely need some early production from a talented group of freshmen.

3. Defensive leaders. This isn't necessarily an issue so much as an unknown. Last year's three seniors were tremendous vocal presences, helping the defense become greater than the sum of its parts in finishing second nationally in scoring. This year's unit could be deeper and more talented, and if it can work together like last year's, it could see similar success in 2013. Jackson, Farley and Nix figure to emerge as front-runners for defensive captain spots this fall.

Pre-spring breakdown: Secondary

March, 19, 2013
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Our series wraps up with the defensive backs.

Starters returning: Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell, Matthias Farley
Players returning: Austin Collinsworth, Lo Wood, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson, Eilar Hardy, C.J. Prosise, Chris Badger, John Turner
Players departing: Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter, Dan McCarthy, Chris Salvi
Newcomers: Max Redfield, Devin Butler, Cole Luke, Rashad Kinlaw

The breakdown: The secondary was the biggest concern going into 2012, and it ended up becoming the biggest surprise. Though the group had a night to forget on Jan. 7 in Miami against Alabama, three starters are back from a stingy unit that suddenly finds itself with another numbers problem -- this time a good one.

Russell, a converted freshman running back, did better than anyone could have ever imagined after rising to the No. 1 spot when Wood went down with a preseason Achilles tear. Jackson lived up to the high preseason words of the coaching staff, finishing third on the team in tackles (65) and adding four picks. Farley, another converted player who made his first appearance in the secondary on a college field (after a redshirt season), adapted well as a tackler. He put in all the necessary post-practice work with safeties coach Bob Elliott to emerge as a strong starter after Slaughter -- who is done after being denied a sixth year by the NCAA -- went down with an Achilles tear of his own. Like Russell, Farley has three years left at Notre Dame.

Wood, a projected starter last season before getting hurt, enters the mix this season as well, though how much he'll be able to do this spring remains to be seen. Collinsworth saw extensive action at safety as a sophomore but underwent both shoulder and back surgeries that forced him to sit out all of last season. He is expected to be back this spring. He will surely give Notre Dame another proven body in the defensive backfield.

Baratti saw plenty of time on defense in his first college season, and you can expect to see him on the field often in one capacity or another. He played often on special teams last season too. Shumate was essentially the Irish's nickelback after converting from safety, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up given the numbers situation back there in 2013.

Among newcomers, Redfield has received the most attention, as he was the No. 23 overall player from the Class of 2013, according to ESPN. He will not enroll until the summer.

Notre Dame mailblog

March, 1, 2013
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What's up?

Greg from San Francisco writes: Hi Matt, What's the real scoop on Ishaq Williams ? He came in as 5 star HS recruit along with Stephan Tuitt. He's not a starter and is played sparingly. Is it too early to consider him a recruitment bust ?

Matt Fortuna: Greg, I'd say it's too early, yes. He saw more and more action as the season went on last year, and I think the instant big impact others in his recruiting class -- namely, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt -- made at Notre Dame have probably skewed outside expectations. Fellow cat linebacker Prince Shembo's standout 2012 campaign probably didn't help matters, either.




Colin Meyer from Madison, Ind., writes: How long do you think it will take for Gunner Kiel to figure out that he is squandering his NFL career by sitting on ND's bench?

Matt Fortuna: Colin, this was a popular topic late last season, even as the Irish made their run to the national title game. We got to talk to Kiel during bowl media day, and he said the thought of transferring never crossed his mind. While Everett Golson clearly has the inside track heading into the spring, the quarterback position has been far from stable at Notre Dame in recent years, and we all know that Brian Kelly won't hesitate to make a switch if the production isn't up to par. I'd wait and see how things unfold in 2013 before speculating on Kiel's future.




Bobby from Pensacola, Fla., writes: Now that the recruiting class is signed it will be interesting to hear about the medical status of the players and 5th year invites... Let's get on it Matt, time to know what the roster is going to look like. GO IRISH!!!

Matt Fortuna: Bobby, no official word, but barring anything unforeseen the returning fifth-year players figure to be Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese. I'd say Nick Tausch has a chance, too. As for medical status, Matt Hegarty (ministroke) is expected to be cleared by spring practice, Austin Collinsworth (shoulder and back surgeries) should be ready and Bennett Jackson and Fox (shoulder surgeries) will likely be limited come spring. I'd be surprised if Lo Wood (Achilles) participated at all in the spring, and, last we heard from Kelly, constant leg problems might force Tate Nichols to take a medical redshirt.
After the NFL and the Manti Te'o questions came football talk, bringing some good and bad news to a 22-day-old Notre Dame offseason that has felt much longer.

Starting cornerback Bennett Jackson had surgery to repair a labrum tear. Starting inside linebacker Dan Fox had a similar operation. Both are expected to be limited to non-contact portions of spring practice, which starts March 20.

Safety Austin Collinsworth is expected to be ready this spring after missing the 2012 season because of separate shoulder and back surgeries. Brian Kelly also sounded optimistic about the playing future of center Matt Hegarty, who was shut down for the season following a Nov. 8 mini-stroke, while cornerback Lo Wood continues to recover from an Achllies tear suffered in fall camp.

Constant leg problems, meanwhile, may force offensive tackle Tate Nichols to take a medical redshirt.

Kelly pegged Hegarty, Nick Martin and Mark Harrell as players in the mix to replace Braxston Cave at center. Kelly said Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace are the front-runners to replace Te'o at the MIKE linebacker spot, with Kendall Moore and potential incoming freshmen having a chance to be included as well.

The mentioning of Fox and Calabrese means both will likely be back for a fifth season in 2013, though Kelly said the official process needs to still take place.

"We're going to sit down when we get back, as we always have from recruiting, once we finish up our numbers in recruiting, then we start to talk about our fifth-year guys," Kelly said. "But they'll all, as we have in the past, they'll continue to train because they're in school anyway. And then we'll let them know our decisions as we talk to the university, relative to granting that additional year."

Kelly also said he is hoping the NCAA's ruling on safety Jamoris Slaughter's appeal for a sixth year will come before national signing day. Kelly said Slaughter is still in school.
Our series continues with the newcomer who made the biggest impact in 2012...

No. 22: KeiVarae Russell, CB

Making the case: Russell was arguably the biggest surprise on a Notre Dame team that had more than its fair share of them during this historic 2012 season. Recruited as a running back and switched to corner upon his summer arrival, the Everett, Wash., native found himself thrust into a starting role after first-teamer Lo Wood went down in camp with a season-ending Achilles injury. All Russell did in the aftermath was perform at a level that earned him freshman All-America honors from the FWAA, helping to shore up a position that figured to be the Irish's weakness entering this season. The fast-talking, fast-playing Russell started every game and finished with two picks, two tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, two break-ups, four passes defended, one quarterback hurry and 58 total tackles, the last number good for fifth-most on a team that led the nation in scoring defense in the regular season.

Preseason ranking: NR

The countdown

No. 23 Robby Toma, WR

No. 24 Kyle Brindza, K

No. 25 Chris Brown, WR

Video: Notre Dame CB Lo Wood

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
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Despite being sidelined with an injury, cornerback Lo Wood is still helping the Irish defense from the sidelines.

Russell catches on quickly for Irish

December, 13, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Yolanda Phillips often had to remind the second of her two kids, KeiVarae Russell, of who the parent was in their family. And despite having another son, Keith -- who is four years older than KeiVarare -- Phillips and the rest of the family couldn't help but refer to her second-born as "Little Man" ever since he was an infant.

"He's always been outgoing," Phillips said. "He's always been something else. Wherever we go, he's always going to talk to everybody, always holding me up. He's always been an outgoing person."

Little Man has grown up fast in six short months at Notre Dame, going from running back recruit to emergency starting cornerback following Lo Wood's camp Achilles tear, and emerging as an integral piece for the nation's No. 1 scoring defense along the way.

[+] EnlargeKeiVarae Russell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCornerback KeiVarae Russell has adjusted to life as a starter quickly for Notre Dame.
Russell's tests have come big and small with the Irish, from a blown assignment in a season-opening rout of Navy to challenging the acclaimed aerial attacks of Oklahoma and USC in primetime road contests.

Asked if he still felt like a freshman, the fast-talking, always-smiling Russell quipped: "I wasn't a freshman after the first game, what you mean?"

Russell starred at cornerback for Mariner (Wash.) as a prep junior and cameoed at safety as a senior, though running the ball was his forte. Upon arriving to Notre Dame, his late-summer switch to the other side of the ball surprised all but one person.

"When he got to high school he wanted to step away and play offense," said his grandfather, Sylvester Phillips, every bit as gregarious as Russell. "I'd always tell him: 'Man, you need to be on defense!' So when he went to Notre Dame and the coaches saw the same thing I saw, that he could be on defense, we just laughed about it."

Phillips' first game came Sept. 22 against Michigan, his birthday weekend. Russell made the trip worthwhile by recording his first career interception. Just three weeks earlier, Russell had been reeling a bit after surrendering the first opponent touchdown of the season, in Dublin.

Cornerback Bennett Jackson, captain Manti Te'o and position coach Kerry Cooks laughed at him afterward, telling the rookie, in plain terms, to pick his head up and get over it. He blitzed on, acting instead of thinking, a formula that had served him well as a prep student.

Then, Russell did everything from starring for coach John Ondriezek's team on the field to ascending to student-council president and dining with special-needs students off it.

"One of my first comments to him as a ninth-grader was that you're a person that will make a difference in others' lives -- you have that ability, you have those opportunities," Ondriezek recalled telling Russell. "And there are a lot of people that have that opportunity to be successful, but they never are because they don't possess that drive and commitment and desire to succeed that he has."

For Martin Luther King Day during his senior year, Russell was invited to nearby Voyager Middle School as its featured guest speaker.

He told Ondriezek that he was nervous. Coach told the senior to treat the occasion like another game. By the time it ended, Russell was receiving a standing ovation from his younger peers.

"Once he gets started, once that first word comes out, he speaks so well, so fluent," Phillips, his grandfather, said. "He listens. He answers the questions and says what he wants to say. Even every game, he'll tell you he's nervous, he's got jitterbugs and everything. But once the game starts, it's over."

Russell is more to the point: It is arrogance, and it is a necessity at defensive back, freshman or not.

His message during the regular-season finale against USC's dynamic duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods illustrates that.

"I looked to both of them in the eyes and said: 'I'm going to beat you guys. I don't care if you're ranked No. 1 and 2 in the country,' " Russell said.

"I had to grow up real soon, real quick, and I learned that," he said. "You can't use the excuse of being a freshman. Once you get to college football, age is nothing. … When I first got here I was making excuses. Like during camp, I was like: OK, this is my first year. But I grew out of that real soon.

"I was like: They offered me a scholarship for a reason. I was one of the best in the country, so I've got to show why."

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