Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell wasn't sure he was ready for the starting role he was thrust into when the season began.
The fast-talking freshman believed he would be able to crack the Irish's rotation in the secondary, but when Lo Wood was lost for the season to an Achilles injury in fall camp, he knew he had to step up.
"When coach, the next few days, told me in the film room I was going to start, I was like, 'Uh, oh. Now it is time to step up.' " Russell said. "They've raised the bar, now I really have to push myself."
Moving into the starting lineup was even harder for Russell, who was recruited as a running back, because he lost his mentor in Wood.
Wood was Notre Dame's only cornerback with starting experience and had taken Russell under his wing.
"He's like a brother," Russell said. "I'm not going to lie, I got a little emotional. Lo helped me out every single day. When he went down, it was like a mentor going down, that hurt me."
Russell said Wood still helps him while recouping from his injury. And whatever Wood is doing, it is paying off.
Russell picked up his first interception in the No. 10 Irish's 13-6 victory over Michiganon Saturday night. Russell's interception is one of eight Notre Dame (4-0) has in the first four games.
"I seen (Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson) look at me, and I was like, 'Uh, oh, here it comes.' I just went up for the ball," Russell said. "(Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree) put his hand in there, that's why it looked like I almost dropped it.
"It felt good to contribute. I thought I was being an outsider for a minute. I was like, 'Everybody is getting picks but me. What's going on?' "
Russell said he is still sloppy at time as he learns his position, but he is improving every day. The 5-foot-11, 182-pounder has 10 tackles, including half a sack, and has broken up a pass to go with his interception.
He also has the right mind set to be a cornerback.
"KeiVarae has a very strong love for the game and competition," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "He has enough of an ego and swagger to not allow the little hiccups that come to reshape his whole mental framework. He has enough love for the game and competitiveness and ego to maintain a healthy balance out there on the perimeter when the game is on the line. … He really looks like a top-flight corner."