Man of the Year finalist: KeiVarae Russell
And then it got better.
Russell, who played his senior football season at Mariner High School in 2011, blossomed into one of the top high school recruits on the West Coast. Elite teams such as Washington, Oregon, Stanford, USC and UCLA all beckoned to Russell, who instead committed to play at one of the most fabled collegiate programs of all, Notre Dame.
He officially signed with the Irish in February of 2012.
Russell said he was drawn by "the prestige of Notre Dame and knowing that it has a 98 (percent) graduation rate, so I know I'm going to graduate."
The 5-foot-11, 182-pound Russell had been recruited as a running back by several schools, but the Fighting Irish wanted him in their defensive secondary and he ended up at cornerback.
And then he ended up in the starting lineup.
Unlike many freshmen who sit out their first college season, which is called a "redshirt" year, Russell earned a spot on the first team during training camp and started all 12 regular-season games. Which happened to be 12 straight victories for the Fighting Irish, who climbed to a No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
Alas, the season did not end happily for Russell and his Notre Dame teammates. On Jan. 7, in the Bowl Championship Series title game, Alabama prevailed over the Fighting Irish, 42-14, in Miami.
But even that final defeat could not diminish a stellar season for Notre Dame, and an equally stellar first season of college football for Russell, a finalist for The Herald's 2012 Man of the Year in Sports award.
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