With an injury riddled secondary being a major concern for the Irish heading into the 2012 season, KeiVarae Russel did what he had to do. The 2012 Army All-American was recruited as an athlete and many thought he would end up a receiver; nobody expected him to end up being a stand out corner in the No. 1 defense in the country.
Russell, as a true freshman, learning a new position, ranks 5th in total tackles (50) on the best defense in the nation and has solidified an improving secondary. What is most impressive about KeiVarae’s season cannot be tracked statistically. As every young player, Russell had some growing pains but seemed to come into his own against the Oklahoma Sooners. On the road, against the best pass offense the Irish had faced to that point, Russell racked up 9 total tackles and was responsible for Kenny Stills (Oklahoma’s stand out receiver) most of the night. Six of Russells tackles that night were individual, and considering how many receiver screens the Sooners were running, Russell’s open field tackling skills were tested. With the undefeated season on the line, Russell stood strong and played disciplined when many freshmen would have crumbled. Russell continued to develop over the next few weeks leading up to the final game of the year at USC. Once again, Russell was responsible for locking down a marquee receiver, Marquis Lee. Russell held Lee to just 5 receptions for 75yards and no touchdowns. Russell showed his toughness during the goal line stand in the 4th quarter. Yes, he had two pass interference penalties, but he played Lee physical and refused to give an inch, causing Lane Kiffin to try and run the ball into the teeth of the Irish front seven.
By the end of the season, Russell, along with Bennet Jackon, Mathias Farley and Zeke Motta, helped move the Irish pass defense into the top 25. There’s no doubt that the Irish pass rush helps, but you can’t deny how important Russell has been. His selflessness and willing to do whatever he had to for his team is another underlying reason the Fighting Irish are playing for a National Championship.