- CBS commentator Gary Danielson, September 1, Dublin, Ireland
Danielson's comment was directed at a freshly roasted freshman named Keivarae Russell, a high school running back who first began tutoring as a cornerback in July, 2012, roughly 40 days prior to Notre Dame's season-opening kickoff vs. Navy across the pond.
Russell was beaten in man coverage -- 25 yards down the post for Navy's only touchdown of the day. Fitting, as it was likewise the only touchdown allowed by the precocious defender in 2012.
"You have to be arrogant and have a short memory at defensive back," said Russell shortly after accepting his award as Notre Dame's defensive newcomer of the year last week. "I learned that after that touchdown in the Navy game. I was hurting. Bennett (Jackson) came up to me and said, 'Man, pick your head up, let's go. We have more football to play.'
"(Cornerbacks) coach (Kerry) Cooks and Manti (Te'o) came up to me laughing saying, 'We have a long season, let's go, don't worry about that one play.'"
"After that, throughout the season, whenever I made a mistake or missed a tackle I'd just say, 'Let's go, next play.'"
Russell became the first true freshman to start the season-opener at cornerback in program history that day, not that factoids and trivia matter much to the gregarious, newly minted Freshmen All-American.
"I've been told that, but it doesn't go through my mind at all. It doesn't register, to be the first freshman," he said. "I (didn't) come here to be the first freshman to start. I just came here to make plays for this team; hopefully enough to win the game."
Russell finished with two interceptions and four passes defended playing a preponderance of zone coverage. The latter is illustrated in his 50 tackles which ranks fifth on the team but third among secondary players.
"I wasn't a freshman after the first game, I had to grow up real quick," said Russell. "You can't use the excuse of being a freshman. Once you get to college football, age is nothing. You see all these big-time freshmen playing and you see some seniors not playing as well as freshmen.
"When I first got here I was using excuses during camp but I grew out of that really soon," he admitted. "They offered me a scholarship because I was one of the best in the country so I had to show why."
Adjustments Elsewhere as WellRussell never played cornerback in high school, just "some safety" he said. But while turning and chasing standout receivers or reading a combo route in the flat proved challenging, it was nothing compared to the adjustment that awaited in the classroom.
"In order to survive in the classroom you need a great support system, especially in a school like this, as hard as this school is, they're going to challenge you academically and athletically," said Russell, a student-athlete who served as president of the student council at Mariner High School (Everett, WA).
"The fact that I have people around me to push me through my academics -- I couldn't' do it alone. I worked hard in high school but high school and college are different worlds. The fact that I have people pushing me to get my work done; making sure that I have my essays turned in on time, making sure that I'm having a great day in general. That helps me to want to be the best.
"I knew it was going to be tough, but the fact that they graduate 98 percent put a smile on my face. That showed that no matter how hard it is, the support system is great."
Russell cites his support system of Cooks and Jackson -- also a converted offensive player -- as the key to his on field development.
"Playing DB you have to have an arrogant mindset, you have to," said Russell. "Bennett and I go into games that way. He enforced that in my mind. You have to have a short memory."
He and Jackson needed short memories in the season-finale in Los Angeles against rival USC, easily the toughest test for the cornerback pair in 2012.
"When I went against (Robert) Woods and (Marqise) Lee that's how it was," Russell offered. "I looked at 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. That's what coach (Cooks) instilled in me. Just go out every play and say 'I'm going to win.'"
Russell won enough that day (an interception vs. three pass interference penalties) and for his defense in 2012 to help the Irish finish 12-0, ranked No. 1, and with just seven passing scores allowed. That's one fewer than the 1988 national champion Irish surrendered, and the lowest at the program since the 1982 Irish yielded the same -- vs. 50 fewer pass attempts.
In other words, Danielson's season-opening question has been sufficiently answered.