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Terrail Lambert: More than MSU

Fran Tolan | Friday, November 21, 2008

Many Notre Dame fans will always remember cornerback Terrail Lambert for his two interceptions against Michigan State in 2006, which helped the Irish erase a 17-point deficit before winning 40-37.

But Lambert, now a fifth-year senior, hopes the comeback against the Spartans is just a small part of his legacy.

“Honestly, I just [want] to be remembered as someone that just became part of the Notre Dame family and be remembered as a guy that did everything in his power to leave it better than it was when I first got here,” he said.

Lambert first got here by the grace of a position change in high school.

Picking a position

Lambert did not even play on the defensive side of the ball until after he entered high school. As a freshman at St. Bonaventure High School, he played running back and backed up his cousin Lorenzo Booker, who went on to play running back at Florida State.

But St. Bonaventure coach Jon Mack saw that Lambert might be a good fit at defensive back.

“Interestingly enough, it was a playoff game … I got a toss, and needless to say I was in the backfield, the corner came up, I ran him over and he had a concussion,” Lambert said. “And then the following spring my coach, he was like we’re gonna see how this works on defense because obviously [I’ve] got a lot of aggression.”

Even though Lambert became a defensive back by an accidental event, he has assimilated well to the position. He said he loves the pressure cornerbacks face on every play.

“Playing defensive back, especially corner, is a lot like sky-diving,” he said. “You’re living life on the edge and it’s a rush. All these things can happen in the blink of an eye so it’s just a challenge itself just being able to think on your feet and having that chess match, one-on-one with the receiver you’re lined up across from. It’s just a euphoric experience to say the least.”

Excelling at the position

Because Lambert had the mindset of a cornerback before adopting the position, he said the switch from offense to defense was not very difficult for him.

“I think from the defensive standpoint, I decided on that side of the ball and particularly to focus on D-back, I think at this level is just because it just seemed like the right position for me, it suited me,” he said. “I’ve always been the type that, high-pressure situations, I thrive off of it. It would make somebody else nervous or a little bit uneasy. I just love being in that position.”

Lambert anchored the St. Bonaventure secondary and was named to the California all-state second team. He chose to attend Notre Dame because of its tradition, and said he is satisfied with his decision.

“I played pretty decent, had a pretty good [high school] career, part of what’s now a formidable program on the West Coast,” he said. “I sort of got my name out there and somehow reached here and by the grace of God I’m here.”

Lambert said his best memories at Notre Dame are the 2006 game against Michigan State and the team’s win over UCLA the following year. Against the Bruins, Lambert made an interception with his mother in attendance.

“The only reason I say that was a great memory was a) that was another comeback win for us and b) my mother was able to see me make a play in college, live in person,” he said. “That was the first time I really made a great play that she was there to see.”

And against Michigan State, every Irish fan should know the story. Lambert said he hopes the two interceptions against the Spartans don’t define his career. But certainly no recap of his career would be complete without the story of that game.

Michigan State 37, Notre Dame 33

In the driving rain in East Lansing, Lambert said he knew he and his teammates had their backs up against the wall. But before the Spartans set up at the line of scrimmage for a third down late in the fourth quarter, the Irish got a sign that their fortunes might be changing – the rain stopped.

“I remember breaking the huddle, the rain had just stopped the series before that because it was just pouring rain like coming in sideways,” he said. “And fans were screaming, everyone’s just getting on their feet and it’s just super loud.”

Lambert said he got in his cornerback position and anticipated the receiver he was covering would run an outside route. Lambert was wrong, but fortunately for the Irish, it didn’t cost him. As Irish linebacker Maurice Crum blitzed Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton, Stanton hurried his pass.

“[The receiver] takes off inside so I just chased him on his hip and Mo’s blitzing and Stanton gets rushed and he sort of overthrows him,” Lambert said. “And the ball just kind of falls into my hand and I catch it with one hand because I had one hand on the receiver.”

Lambert said he noticed a change in the crowd as soon as he made the pick.

“I just looked down and as soon as I had seen the ball in my hand it was like dead silence, I could have heard a pin drop,” he said. “As loud as it was, I couldn’t hear anything all the way to the end zone.”

Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37

After the interception, Lambert took the ball 23 yards to the endzone. He then capped off the win for the Irish when he picked off another Stanton pass on the final play of the game. Lambert said he did not fully realize the magnitude of his performance at the time.

“It really didn’t hit me until I woke up in the morning [the next day] and I see my highlights on ESPN,” he said. “… It was a blessing to be a part of that.”

Many Irish fans would undoubtedly echo Lambert’s sentiment.