As linebacker Dan Fox walked out of the interview room in the bowels of Yankee Stadium following the Pinstripe Bowl, he spotted a throng of media crowded around cornerback KeiVarae Russell.
"That's a rugged corner! A rugged corner!" Fox yelled.
Former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco started calling Russell that about halfway through the 2013 season, when Russell said he really started to feel comfortable not just as a cornerback, but as a defensive player. While Diaco left for the UConn job weeks before the Pinstripe Bowl, it's a characterization that's lived on -- and Russell expects to live on as long as he plays the position.
"It took two seasons to do it, but when you're an offensive player your whole life it's tough to actually get that the first year," Russell said. "I think that first year was a learning experience. This year is really getting into that position, and going into next year I'm a full-blown corner now.
"I really believe I'm going to be one of the best, and I'm going to keep working on it until I'm the best."
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Russell flashed his skills in the Pinstripe Bowl, intercepting a pass and breaking up three others in Notre Dame's 29-16 win over Rutgers. It was one of, if not the, best games Russell has played in his career, and made the sort of impact Notre Dame may need out of him on a consistent basis this coming fall.
"It showed today the talents that he truly has," linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "A lot of quarterbacks don't throw to his side, so the stats may not have showed, but today he was able to display that."
"He's a beast," Fox added. "The way he plays game in and game out, he's one of the best corners in the country."
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Russell doesn't want to be one of the best, though -- he wants to be the very best. That much was clear in his media pow-wow after the Pinstripe Bowl. And while it's a lofty goal, Russell feels he has a better understanding of what it'll take to reach it after two years on the job.
"Sky's the limit for me," Russell said, "and it shows I really can be the best corner in the country and it just takes a lot of work to do that."