Senior CB Cole Luke represents Notre Dame's voice of justice

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

At the LaBar Practice Complex, Cole Luke is the law.

Troy Pride Jr. found that out the hard way on Wednesday, when the freshman cornerback leaped for a pass but let the football slip agonizingly through his fingers. Pride started to jog back to the sideline, then stopped dead in his tracks.

He heard the voice of justice from the opposite end of the field.

“Troy! Troy! Pushups!” Luke bellowed, mimicking a pushup motion with his hands.

Pride dropped to his knees and knocked out 10 pushups, and thus, his debt was paid.

“Last year, I wouldn’t have said that,” said Luke, easily Notre Dame’s most experienced returning cornerback. “I took it upon myself that, if I’m not going to lead the group, who is? I think all the corners trust me to do it.

“That’s kind of funny, because that’s something I didn’t even realize until right now.”

Luke’s newfound leadership wasn’t thrust upon him, nor was it a conscious decision. He needs to lead, and so he’s leading.

But then again, so is everyone else.

“I would want Shaun Crawford — which he (freaking) does, all the time — to tell me, ‘Hey, 10 pushups. You dropped that. You should have caught it.’ He does,” Luke said. “We all hold each other accountable, regardless of what age you are, whether you start or you don’t. It doesn’t matter.”

Sure, on the practice field, Luke is the law. But so is head coach Brian Kelly and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght. So is Crawford, and Pride, and Ashton White, and Donte Vaughn, and Julian Love, and Nick Watkins, and on and on and on.

The cornerbacks are accountable for each other, and that wasn’t always the case.

“The pushups aren’t new, but we didn’t really hold people accountable to it (in the past),” Luke said. “That’s one thing that we’re really focusing on is accountability, regardless of who you are. I don’t care if you’re a leader, if you’re Isaac (Rochell), Mike McGlinchey, anybody in this room, it does not matter. We just need to hold everybody accountable.”

That accountability starts with Luke — Notre Dame’s 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior cornerback — who tied for the team lead with two interceptions last season but also left too many plays on the field. This time around, he’s focused on consistent technique.

Every step. Every play.

Hopefully, fewer pushups.

“The techniques necessary to play corner and safety require an attention to detail that is really like no other position,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “If you're off just a little at corner and you don't use the right technique, you're going to get beat down the sideline for a touchdown. So I think it's that mental and physical consistency on a day-to-day basis that sometimes alludes some of the young kids when they get tired.

“Cole Luke has been outstanding at it this year. He's a senior. He's a veteran. Where at times his technique escaped him last year, it doesn't escape him very much at all.”

When Notre Dame storms the field in Austin, Texas, for the season opener on Sept. 4, Luke’s 26 career starts will lead his position group by a wide margin. Behind him, senior Devin Butler — who continues to recover from a broken foot — has started three. Junior Nick Watkins has started one.

Six more freshmen or sophomores have yet to make a start on the collegiate level.

But though Notre Dame’s cornerbacks room is filled with more unseasoned freshmen than savvy veterans and projected first round picks, the expectations haven’t changed.

And if you ask Troy Pride Jr., neither has the consequences.

“It’s just a matter of will, I think,” Luke said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a top-five pick in the draft. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re ranked, if people know your name or not.

“Shaun Crawford…nobody knows who he is, but he doesn’t give a (darn). He’s going to go out and ball. Nick Coleman, nobody knows who he is, but he’s going to go out and give his best every single play. That’s just how it is.”

These days, Luke’s improvement is measured in big plays and pushups.

But come September, wins will be the only criteria that matters.

“Nobody’s fighting for individual stats or trying to be that guy on SportsCenter,” Luke said. “We’re trying to win a ballgame. We’re trying to win a national championship, and that’s it.

“Nobody really cares about where we’re going after we graduate. Me and Isaac (Rochell), we want to win a national championship. We have the potential to go on and get drafted next year, but it doesn’t matter to us. We want to win a national championship. That’s what’s really going to matter.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Cole Luke (36) during Notre Dame football practice on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN