Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 18 of 55 OCT. 17, 2016 19 "We told each other we're going to be on the spot," said Love, the first and so far only member among the seven freshman defensive backs (or any rookie) to be allowed access to the media this year. "We were told from day one we need to be ready, and the time is now. … I feel like we're doing a great job just learning from the older guys and just trying to be reliable players for the rest of the team. "At first we were definitely a bit nervous, but now when we step on the field we feel natural. It's some- thing we've all worked for, and we're building off of each other." Their opportunity at corner/nickel was hastened by four factors. First, KeiVarae Russell was eligible for a fifth season in 2016 but opted to turn pro and became a third-round pick in the NFL Draft. Second was senior Devin Butler recovering from offseason foot surgery while also serving a suspension for an indefinite period. Third was a season-ending Achilles injury to sophomore corner/ nickel Shaun Crawford early in the Nevada game. Finally, junior corner- back Nick Watkins, who started in the Fiesta Bowl, has been sidelined since last April with a fractured humerus. The rookie trio also has moved ahead of sophomores Nick Coleman and Ashton White on the depth chart. The meteoric ascent of Pride Jr. espe- cially was telling when Kelly spent more time watching him in practice once he took on the expanded role with the defensive operations. "I really was impressed with him," Kelly said of Pride Jr., who appeared to be on his way to a redshirt sea- son. "I wanted to play him — and I thought we should have played him. I'm making those personnel de- cisions. We played him a little too much [at Syracuse]." This past spring, Pride Jr. won four state titles at the South Carolina AAA State Track & Field Championships, capturing the 100 meters (10.55 sec- onds), the 200 meters (21.28) and the 400 meters (48.28) while also run- ning a leg for the winning 4x100 re- lay team. Track speed and football speed are two different animals, but Kelly says Pride Jr.'s make-up speed at corner is "extraordinary" and is comple- mented with strong football acumen. "Those guys are going to play for me," Kelly said. "We got his [reps] volume up during the week. I thought he could sustain it … we go one-on-one every day on scout team, and I was like, 'That guy is as good as the guys we go against week in and week out.'" With Vaughn, the appeal goes be- yond his rangy 6-2, 200-pound frame. Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, a two-time consensus All-American at Notre Dame in 1989-90, opined in the preseason that Vaughn had all the physical traits to achieve immense distinctions at the collegiate level. Vaughn's interception against Duke was as textbook as it comes in coverage and playing the ball in the air. The Fighting Irish haven't had a corner with his length and the skills to flip his hips in coverage since the 6-3, 201-pound Bobby Tay- lor, a second-round pick as a junior in 1994 (first-rounder Lyght, a Pro Bowl player like Taylor, was 6-1, 184). "A unique player in that he has the size and the flexibility to play that position," Kelly said of Vaughn. "He's not afraid to play … He's go- ing to be a really good tackler, and he's got really good ball skills. All those things are really, really good traits to have as a 6-2 corner." While Vaughn's range might seem ideally suited as a ball-hawking free safety playing center field — which is where Taylor began his college ca- reer in 1992 — Kelly said the fresh- man will remain at cornerback. "I thought he could be a corner, and I'm glad he's at corner," Kelly said. "He's not going to safety." Finally, Love already seems to be the graybeard of the group, and his on-field smarts have aided his rise. Freshman cornerback Julian Love played in each of Notre Dame's first five contests with one start, and compiled 12 tackles and one pass broken up. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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