Notre Dame football: Punishing hits put Shumate in mix

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Elijah Shumate paused for a second to ponder just how many victories the streak had reached, but ultimately he could not pinpoint the figure.

It was a streak that started early in Shumate’s high school career, which began at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic and concluded at Don Bosco (Ramsey, N.J.) Prep after Paterson Catholic closed. The streak stretched through Shumate’s freshman year at Notre Dame until a pasting at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game ended Shumate’s personal win streak after ... well, a while.

“I really did not keep count of that,” Shumate said. “I just knew that I hadn’t lost in a long time.”

Months after suffering that first loss in a while, Shumate is in a position battle that appears his to lose — that being the fight for the starting safety job opposite Matthias Farley.

The 6-foot, 213-pound sophomore seems to have the inside track on the job that was vacated when Zeke Motta graduated, rising above senior Austin Collinsworth, junior Eilar Hardy, sophomore John Turner and freshman Max Redfield. Sophomore Nicky Baratti also was in the equation before a shoulder injury that required surgery truncated his season before it began.

In the windows of practice time made open to the media, Shumate has run with the first team, although Irish coach Brian Kelly stopped short of naming Shumate the starter entering the Aug. 31 opener against Temple at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I don’t think that Elijah’s nailed anything down,” Kelly cautioned, “but he’s going to be on the field.”

In Shumate, Notre Dame has a player skilled enough to play cornerback, which he did last season in passing situations, and physical enough to gain the reputation as a punishing hitter.

“I’m just a physical person,” Shumate said. “Since growing up, I’ve been loving to hit. I just like to play with that attitude all the time.”

The obstacle that would appear to be holding Shumate from Kelly making it official that Shumate will play all the time appears to be fully grasping the defense.

“Corner was a great thing for me. It was a great experience. I just wanted to do what I had to do to get out on the field” said Shumate, who played in all 13 games, making nine tackles and breaking up three passes.

Safety, however, was the position at which Shumate was recruited.

“They both take different responsibilities. Safety is more talkative and more communication. Cornerback is more like, ‘Do your job.’ They’re both tough positions.”

And Shumate appears to be gaining a better grasp on the mental portion of the game.

“I’m still a work in progress, and that’s what safety’s about — safety is about thinking, reading,” he said. “I’ve still got to go out and do my job, but I’m going to continue to just get better and better.”

Elijah Shumate