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KeiVarae Russell fully cleared by NCAA

| Thursday, August 20, 2015

More than halfway through his 40-minute press conference at Tuesday’s media day, Brian Kelly had some news to break.

“By the way, KeiVarae [Russell] was fully cleared by the NCAA and reinstated, so he is back with us,” the Irish head coach said. “Like how I dropped that one in there? Pretty cool, huh?”

The development in Russell’s return to Notre Dame didn’t come as a surprise, but it nonetheless provides a big lift for the Irish secondary. A day after Kelly announced Russell’s clearance, the team said freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford, who had garnered praise from his coaches and teammates throughout preseason camp and was expected to compete for playing time in his first season, tore his ACL in Wednesday morning’s practice and will now miss the entire 2015 campaign.

Though Russell expected the final result, he said it still “feels amazing” and took a huge weight off his shoulders.

“Before, I knew I was going to be part of it, but there’s still hesitation, like, what if they came back and just out of nowhere like I got the worst case scenario and they said I wasn’t playing?” he said. “That’d kill me, so it’s one of those things that since it’s behind me, it’s a really exciting feel, and now I can just do what I want to do, do what I need to do to help this team win and put 100 percent in 100 percent of the time.”

Kelly said the cornerback is shaking off the rust and getting back to his old form a few weeks into practice, commenting on one of Russell’s more popular Instagram posts, “When you’re out of pads for a year, you can’t duplicate that by jumping on boxes.”

“He still needs that work,” Kelly said. “So the first couple of weeks, it wasn’t much. We were running past him, and he was holding us and grabbing us. Now you can start to see him, his technique is coming back, his discipline is coming back, and it’s nice to see.”

While Russell stayed in shape during his suspension by training at home in Washington, he said there was still an adjustment period to get caught up to the speed of practice — and the teammates he was going up against.

“A lot of it was just working on fundamentals and techniques, so it’s different when you come and you go against a guy like [Will] Fuller or Chris Brown or Corey Robinson that first day and they’re coming full speed at you, and you’ve got a guy like Malik Zaire throwing the ball as well,” he said. “So it’s just that adjusting factor, and I feel like I’ve adjusted extremely well in a week.”

Russell said he is academically considered a senior and will meet with his advisor next week to sort through where he stands in school.

Senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, left, prepares to make a tackle during Notre Dame’s 23-13 win over BYU at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 23, 2013. Russell returns after serving a one-year suspension in 2014.Wei Lin | The Observer
Senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, left, prepares to make a tackle during Notre Dame’s 23-13 win over BYU at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 23, 2013. Russell returns after serving a one-year suspension in 2014.

With his return to the field finalized, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams remains the only player from last year’s suspended group whose future is still up in the air. Kelly did not have an update Tuesday besides to say Williams had just submitted his personal appeal to the NCAA.

“His part had an appeal that he had to personally put together as well,” Kelly said. “That’s been completed. That has been sent off to the NCAA, so now that goes through the process of them now looking at his appeal.”

Russell said he hadn’t talked with Williams since camp started, and even before then, he said their conversations weren’t centered around Williams’ unknown future or their suspensions.

“When we talk, it’s more like teammates,” Russell said. “I still feel like he’s on our team, to me, so I talk to him like I talk to Chris Brown. I talk to him like I talk to Sheldon Day. … If he mentions it, then we’ll talk about it, but I don’t really bring it up much just because I know how it feels.”

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Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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