SOUTH BEND -- It's been a frenetic last few months for KeiVarae Russell.
The Notre Dame freshman has survived his first fall camp at Notre Dame. He's taken in his first college courses. Russell has also already gone through a position switch, from running back to cornerback.
All of those challenges have been met head-on, with a large dose of enthusiasm.
There has been, however, one obstacle, one with which Russell continues to struggle, and that's the time zone change he encountered when he moved from Everett, Wash., to South Bend.
"That was hard man," said Russell, one of the few times the tone in his voice turned serious and the smile disappeared. "To this day I still stay up late. It'll be 12 o'clock here and it feels like 9 o'clock to me. It's hard."
A mini-case of jet lag may be dogging Russell, but Irish coach Brian Kelly felt the time was right for Russell, who was expected to play running back at Notre Dame, to switch to cornerback.
The path to the field became even shorter this week when projected starter Lo Wood suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, further depleting the depth chart and intensifying the need for Russell in the secondary.
The 5-foot-11, 182-pound Russell now becomes a key backup at a position that was already paper thin on experience. Wood was the most experienced corner on the roster, and his injury, especially after an impressive camp, puts even more pressure on what is a group of largely untested players.
Russell is ready for the challenge.
"Kick return, punt return, defensive end, anything, wherever they want me to play," Russell told Kelly shortly before camp when the third-year coach approached him about the switch. "Coach smiled and said, 'All right I want you to play corner.' I'll give it a go."
The move wasn't a complete shock in that Notre Dame now has better depth at running back than it does at corner. Russell seemed a logical choice to make a switch in that he spent some time in the secondary at Mariner High in Everett, Wash., albeit at safety.
"I love challenges. So this is another challenge for me," Russell said. "Every day I love a challenge so I'm trying to compete with the best."
One of the biggest perceived challenges is that Russell will need to be more physical in the switch to defense. In fact, he's had to temper his physicality, trying to balance when he should mix it up and when he should back off.
"It's football. You've got to be physical," he said. "It's kind of hard sometimes because you've got to lay back, but then you want to be physical, but then that might cost you play if you're too physical in case somebody gets behind you. At the end of the day you've got to have your instincts and the feeling when you think it's right to be physical."
And at the end of almost every day, Russell still finds himself staying up late. That, however, hasn't caused him to lounge in bed all morning and adhere to West coast clocks.
"You've got to get your work done," Russell said. "That's how it is. In the real world, (if) you stay up late you've still got to get up at 4 o'clock. I'm out here trying to get better each and every day at a new position."
Y? For mom
Not only has freshman safety Nicky Baratti had a chance to work on a variety of Notre Dame's special teams units, he's also seen his first name written a couple of different ways.
So which is it, Nick or Nicky?
"Nicky's fine," he said. "My mom would probably like that more."
Freshman receiver Justin Ferguson and teammate TJ Jones tapped the Internet one night during fall camp to gauge just how long the Irish will be in the air when they fly to Dublin, Ireland for the season opener against Navy.
Ferguson calculated about an eight-hour flight, and also took some time to check out the hotel at which the Irish will be staying.
"I've never been out of the country, so especially to have my first college game in a different country, it's a big accomplishment for myself," he said. "I'm very excited.''
Staff writer Bob Wieneke: