Safety Avery Sebastian adapting to new environment at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —The array of must-see spots on campus has happily surpassed Avery Sebastian’s high bar that he conjured in his mind before transferring from Cal this past spring.

“The Hesburgh Library, going to the Grotto,” the imported safety recounted recently. “There is so much stuff. I’m on Snapchat, ‘Look at this.’ So I’m like a tourist every day.”

Except on the football field, though you couldn’t blame the grad school transfer from McDonough, Ga., if he were.

Notre Dame second-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is the fourth coordinator, and thus fourth different defensive scheme, the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder has been exposed to since matriculating from Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy to Cal in 2011, then as a consensus four-star prospect known at the time as Avery Walls.

Walls had his named legally changed to Sebastian on his 18th birthday, and has been adapting to changes outside of his control ever since.

The most challenging of those has been a series of injuries that helped limit Sebastian to 31 games and six starts in four years at Cal, and a lost season (2013) that turned serendipitously out to be his ticket to transfer to ND.

The third player ever to use the grad-school exemption to transfer into the ND football program without the typical one-year sitting-out period (in contrast to the 18 outgoing grad school transfers, just during coach Brian Kelly’s watch alone) chose the Irish, even though there wasn’t a clear path to a starting job.

There still isn’t, though Sebastian got work with the 1s on Saturday, as VanGorder continued to mix and match personnel at times to learn more about them. That’s not to say the oldest of ND’s 24 scholarship newcomers hasn’t gotten in step with the theme of strong first impressions that the 23 freshmen have largely been casting.

But senior Elijah Shumate remains at the top of the depth chart at strong safety, alongside surging junior free safety Max Redfield.

“We’re pleased with him,” Kelly said of Sebastian. “I thought we were going to get more of a situational guy — option, box safety — but he’s shown himself to know our defense pretty good. He picks up things very well, pretty smart guy.

“So he’s done some good things for us, gives us another guy back there with some experience. Good tackler, but I think the thing that stood out for us right away was he’s got good football sense, understands the game pretty good.”

He also understands the demands of his one-year accelerated individual studies graduate program in entrepreneurship and business management, in which he’s enrolled. So unlike recent ND grad-school transfer Cody Riggs, now a rookie with the Tennessee Titans, Sebastian will decelerate his program a little bit during the season and finish up when he’s not asked to do as much multi-tasking.

Riggs completed his master’s in business management in less than one calendar year, including studying for final exams while the 2015 NFL Draft was going on.

“The success rate in the NFL is not very high for guys, and not a lot of people stay in the league for long,” Sebastian said of his diligence toward eventually finishing what he started, unlike most grad school-style transfers in football, nationally.

“So if you’re able to maintain a master’s or a Ph. D., or whatever you can, that just opens so many more doors.”

Sebastian opened the door to Notre Dame before ever taking a visit to the school. Once he did visit, post-commitment, the overriding impression was how driven the players were toward winning a national title.

“They’re all in,” he noted. “It’s a great culture.”

There was one familiar face among his new teammates — defensive end Isaac Rochell, a sophomore at Eagle’s Landing Christian when Sebastian was a senior there. Sebastian remembers him as an advanced player with a high football IQ, but on the skinny side.

Rochell now is one of ND’s most powerful players, on either side of the ball, and checks in at 6-4, 287.

“When I got here, I hadn’t kept up too much with him,” Sebastian said. “I didn’t know he was balling out like he was.”

Perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise was that former Irish All-American Todd Lyght is his position coach and how well that’s worked out for Sebastian.

Lyght left Vanderbilt in February, after three weeks on the job, to come back to his alma mater and coach defensive backs, about the time Sebastian was committing to ND.

“Coach Lyght’s a perfect guy,” Sebastian said. “You look at coach Lyght — played here, All-American, played in the NFL, Super Bowl, running businesses successfully. So now he’s back here coaching. It’s like who else could you want to coach you?”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Safety Avery Sebastian (8) Saturday, August 15, 2015, at the Notre Dame football practice at Labar Practice Complex. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ