Now or Never ’15 – Elijah Shumate

Elijah Shumate - Notre Dame S
Robin Alam/Icon SMI began its annual “Now or Never” series last week with fifth-year senior wide receiver Amir Carlisle, and this week will move to defense with senior safety Elijah Shumate.


Elijah Shumate was a 4-star safety prospect hailing from East Orange, N.J. Rated as the No. 8 safety in the nation for the class of 2012, the New Jersey native held offers from top programs across the country, including the likes of Georgia, Michigan and Oklahoma.

Shumate was one of the best players on one of the best high school programs in the nation in Don Bosco Prep, and was athletic enough that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly at one point considered giving the Garden State standout a look at running back. A punishing run-stuffer, Shumate was considered an elite safety against the run that would need work on coverage technique at the college level.

Reason for Optimism

One of the strongest reasons for optimism for Shumate in 2015 comes courtesy of the glowing reviews Brian Kelly provided during the spring practice session.

“We don’t see the missed assignments,” Kelly told the media in regard to safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield. “Their development is clearly evident and so much different than where we were at this time last year or anytime during the season.”

Kelly’s positive review of Shumate’s development should give Irish fans hope for the upcoming season, but the greatest reason for optimism is the return of star cornerback, KeiVarae Russell. Prior to Russell’s season-long suspension in 2014 he was earning the reputation as one of the best cornerbacks in the country, and junior cornerback Cole Luke made a name for himself in Russell’s absence, limiting Stanford’s star wide receiver, Ty Montgomery – a third-round NFL Draft selection of the Green Bay Packers – to 12 yards receiving in Notre Dame’s thrilling victory over the Cardinal last fall.

Together, Russell and Luke may very well form one of the best cornerback duos in the nation, allowing defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder the opportunity to play more man coverage in the secondary. Having two great cornerbacks capable of playing without the benefit of safety help will allow Elijah Shumate to move closer to the line of scrimmage and play to his greatest strength – stuffing the run.

Reason for Doubt

The most imposing obstacle on Shumate’s path to a successful 2015 season is focus, which Kelly referenced this spring when praising Shumate for his improvement on “missed assignments.” The former Don Bosco Prep star lost his starting position after Notre Dame was embarrassed by Arizona State, with Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly shredding the Irish secondary with over 200 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. Highlighting how poor the missed assignments were, Shumate was benched in favor of true freshman Drue Tranquill, and when Tranquill went down with a torn ACL, Brian Kelly opted to go further down the depth chart to safety Eilar Hardy rather than reinsert Shumate into the lineup.

And while Kelly publicly praised Shumate’s spring performance, actions speak louder than words. It’s hard to ignore Notre Dame’s decision to accept graduate transfer Sebastian Avery, a fifth-year safety from Cal. Avery, like Shumate, is also a run support safety, but it’s telling Avery’s strength happens to be Shumate’s weakness.

“I’m an offensive guy and we didn’t have a defensive backs coach, and when I started working with Avery he taught me a lot,” Sebastian’s former high school coach, Jonathan Gess, told California Golden Blogs. “He was like a coach inside the secondary.”

It is no secret Notre Dame’s depth at safety is thin with the graduation of Austin Collinsworth and safeties Nicky Baratti and Drue Tranquill recovering from injury, so adding Avery makes sense from a depth perspective. But it also can’t be ignored that Kelly accepted the transfer of a run-stopping safety known for his football intelligence as a safety net given the mental lapses Shumate has endured throughout his career at Notre Dame.

Outlook for 2015

The biggest hurdle for Shumate may be mental, but the solution may very well be defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, the epitome of a Notre Dame Renaissance Man. Lyght was an All-American and team captain at Notre Dame prior to spending 11 years in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl and being named to the All-Pro team. After retirement, Lyght put his Notre Dame education to use as a successful entrepreneur, owning a chain of pizzerias across the country as well as a nightclub in California.

What makes Lyght truly special is his intelligence and personality. A clinical teacher capable of spending 45 minutes discussing the nuances of cornerback stances pre-snap, Lyght also possesses a calm demeanor that effectively communicates his teachings. He’s the kind of coach players fear letting down, and it’s these traits that will make him very successful developing college players.

With the return of KeiVarae Russell – which will allow Shumate to play to his natural strength of stopping the run – and with Todd Lyght assisting his mental development, there is strong reason to believe Shumate will have a breakout season in 2015.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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  1. I agree with Jerry. having competition will bring out the best in him. I would also like to side note that I am a huge fan of Kelly’s new motto “Culture beats scheme”. Go Irish! Culver Academy, here they come! Also want to say congrats to Cave on getting married this weekend!

  2. If ever there was a now or never player for the Irish Shumate is the perfect candidate. The skill set is all there.

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