Instant Maturity: KeiVarae Russell and Avery Sebastian

Two vintage wines recently arrived in South Bend from West Coast vineyards.  Avery Sebastian came in from Berkeley and KeiVarae Russell from Tacoma.

Last Spring Brian Van Gorder and Kerry Cooks were moving along counting on KeiVarae Russell as the cornerstone cornerback, and grizzled vet and captain-in-waiting Austin Collinsworth shepherding the young safeties, with Eilar Hardy and Nicky Baratti as Collinsworth’s lieutenants and assisting with the kids.  Russell was rated by Phil Steele as the #7 cornerback in America.  (FWIW, the six listed above him were all drafted in the 2014 NFL draft.)

Oops! Van Gorder and Cooks, by the eve of the Rice game, felt like Linus flailing at that clever Lucy’s purloined football.  No Russell, No Collinsworth, no Hardy, no Baratti.

That was then, this is now.

Russell’s sabbatical evokes memories of the crucible entered by Browner, Fry, Bradley and Hunter after the dormitory contretemps of the summer of ’74.  The foursome returned, bigger,  better and more mature, in 1975 and got their championship in ’77, hooking the Horns in the Cotton Bowl before bewildered Bevo and exasperated exes of Texas.

Russell turned the sword of banishment into the plowshares of fanatical effort improving his physical and athletic skills. He was an RKG and is still an RKG*,  the asterisk required because of the academic incident.  After all, KeiVarae Russell was the male lead in the Notre Dame School Play and an aspiring poet.

“You can tame a wild duck, you can’t ‘wild’ a tame duck.”  Russell was, appropriately after all, constrained and restrained in Diaco’s zone packages.  He was the wild duck, tamed.  But his aggression was about to be unleashed. Under the Van Gorder system, he would be freer, looser, a more empowered player initiating rather than reacting.  And so he will be in the Brian Van Gorder/Todd Lyght hegemony.

To use the metaphor familiar in Russell’s home state, he will be the Bill Gates to Cole Luke’s Steve Ballmer.

Avery Sebastian’s role is different.  Oft-injured in Berkeley, he  remained a special teams demon, a skill of which Scott Booker is well aware.   He will not resent playing third fiddle (assuming he keeps Tranquill and John Turner at bay) to Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.  Further, Matthias Farley’s pristine mastery of the nickel role even further lessens the burden on the safeties.

Sebastian is also an RKG, from Isaac Rochell’s high school, Eagle’s Landing Christian in McDonough, Georgia. That ever fleeting calendar says that Redfield is a junior and Elijah Shumate a senior. Sebastian is a fifth year senior, a perfect bookend to the arriving Mykelti Williams, Nicco Fertitta and perhaps Ashton White.

The timing of the arrival of Russell and Sebastian is optimal. Todd Lyght now has two “graduate assistants” in his first class as Notre Dame’s secondary coach.  They know how, but also have a grasp of the “why.”

Of the 126 teams in the top level of collegiate football it is doubtful that any team has added two secondary “recruits” as impactful as Russell and Sebastian.

Go Irish!


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  1. @duranko – I don’t plan on attending. So you may have to consult Snoopy himself. (; And I’m not sure what “challenges” you refer to cc. the BC Brats game at Fenway. I’M 100% IRISH. (Honorary Alumn, class of 1989, in fact)

  2. for david, one of history’s lost truths is that in ’73 it was Bradley who won his starting position before Browner did. And go back and look at Bradley’s hit on Swann early in the ’73 USC game.

    for irdy, birdy, mea culpa!

    For Hurls, my buddy, and Hurls I ask this with great tenderness and delicacy, are you going to be able to find a way to attend the ND BC game at Fenway?. Understand that I take not lightly the challenges this may present.

  3. Great column as usual, Mr. Duranko. Although – wasn’t it Charlie Brown who was always being duped by Lucy?

  4. I saw a top 50 Notre Dame football list that left Luther Bradley off the list. It was compiled by a group of 20 something Notre Dame students. My immediate thought was “are you guys smoking crack.” Needless to say, their list lost all credibility with me.

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