Cole Luke, Irish secondary warming up to Lyght
Todd Lyght didn’t need to run through his résumé or bring his national championship ring to work.
Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke already knew what he was getting as his new defensive backs coach before he met him.
“He didn’t really have to state his presence with his background or anything,” the Irish junior-to-be. “We kind of already knew.”
In the weeks following his arrival at Notre Dame, Lyght has started to show if he can coach at a similar level at which he played. The former All-America cornerback, 1988 national champ, 12-year NFL veteran and Super Bowl XXIV champ has been sharing knowledge on the field and in the meeting room.
“He’s definitely been vocal, which is good for us,” Luke said. “He’s definitely been a good coach inside the film room so far. I’m excited to see where it can go.”
Luke himself has already come a long way. He was given a chance to play right away as a freshman at nickelback. By the time his sophomore season started last year, he had more game experience playing cornerback for Notre Dame than any other player on the active roster.
Luke flourished in the absence of suspended teammate KeiVarae Russell and finished the 2014 season as the only member of the secondary to start all 13 games. He tied Matthias Farley with a team-leading four interceptions.
“I don’t think about it often,” Luke said, “but looking back at it, it’s pretty crazy to see how things have changed so fast.”
He logged his first career start in the 2014 season opener against Rice. His first interception came in the fifth game of the season against Stanford. He liked it so much that he finished the game with two.
Both games played significant roles in the confidence Luke had at his position.
“Confidence is definitely a big part as a corner,” Luke said. “You’re going to get beat sometimes. It happens.”
Luke won more than he lost. By the end of the season, he developed into the most consistent cornerback on the roster. He notched 15 pass breakups by season’s end — 10 more than anyone else on the team.
“I think I had a pretty decent year,” Luke said. “Obviously it could be better. I kind of just want to be a lockdown corner really. I did play some top receivers and had a few balls caught. I’m trying to minimize that.”
The return of temporarily banished Russell could complete a dynamic duo on both sides of the field for the Irish in 2015.
With a full year in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme, Luke may be the one mentoring Russell this time around. The fundamentals of the defense are already second nature to Luke.
“I’m comfortable with the game plan that we have and the scheme that we use and run,” Luke said. “I don’t have to think during the play as much. When I get the call, it’s just there and processed, so I can just go play ball.”
Filling out the rest of the depth chart behind Luke and Russell remains a mystery. Will Farley remain at nickelback this season? Can Devin Butler and Nick Watkins challenge for playing time? What about touted newcomer Shaun Crawford? Luke has confidence in the group. He just wants to see the confidence reflected in each fellow cornerback.
“I think we’re a good unit,” Luke said. “We’re talented, but we need to take it to the next level overall. We need to have that mentality where once we go on the field that no ball is going to be caught on us. When we all get that confidence as a group, I think we can be unstoppable.”