Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Competition & Depth Key Irish Secondary

August 22, 2019
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Todd Lyght could probably command a room by simply flashing his championship rings.
 
After all, the former two-time Notre Dame All-America selection was on the Irish’s last National Championship squad in 1988 and won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 1999.
 
He’s among the most accomplished and decorated defensive backs in Notre Dame’s distinguished annals.
 
Lyght, however, isn’t pulling so much on his personal philosophy. He’s imploring the mind-set of a former Super Bowl-winning teammate with the St. Louis Rams as Lyght, Notre Dame’s fifth-year defensive backs coach, readies his unit for the September 2nd season-opener at Louisville.
 
“I remember we were sitting down having a conversation about playing not at 100 percent,” Lyght said of Faulk during Notre Dame’s Media Day. “He said, ‘I kind of like playing not at 100 percent because it makes me focus more.’ I thought it was an interesting point and I had never looked at it like that. If you’re not at 100 percent, the mental part of the game has to pick up because you’re not all there. It’s true. I changed my mindset in terms of how I felt in my preparation. I try to relay that to players.
 
“Going through the course of the season from August on, you’re not going to be 100 percent. You’re going to be anywhere from 85 to 96,97 percent. You have to the mindset to do the right things, practice with the right habits and energy. You have to execute at a very high level to give our defense a chance to win a National Championship.”
 
Working in concert with passing game coordinator Terry Joseph, Lyght is helping to develop arguably the Irish’s deepest secondary since his arrival as coach --- and quite possibly since his own playing days.
 
Two safeties, Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, are among the team’s seven captains. Troy Pride Jr. has drawn praise for his emergence in camp as the boundary cornerback.
 
Scintillating freshman Kyle Hamilton --- he of double-digit interceptions in preseason camp --- even left Brian Kelly joking this week about tamping down a Heisman Trophy campaign prior to Hamilton’s first game.
 
Lyght’s focus is harnessing the proper mentality for a secondary that faces two of the stiffest tests in the nation --- at Georgia and at Michigan --- before the calendar flips to November.
 
“To be really successful at cornerback, you have to have the win-at-all-costs mentality,” Lyght said. “I tell my guys all the time they will never win every rep. If you play 100 plays, you’re looking to win 98 of them. If you win 98 of them and you blow two plays, you have a chance of not having a good game. Every snap is critical.
 
“That’s why the compete-level at a cornerback is so critical to be successful.”
 
It’s also why Joseph and Lyght are readying a deeper platoon for 2019 on the heels of Elliott and Gilman combining for nearly 1,700 snaps during Notre Dame’s College Football Playoffs run.
 
“Well, I think you know, when you look back at last year, Jalen and Alohi, they played probably above everybody’s expectations, but at the end of the day, they played too much,” said Joseph, lead recruiter on Hamilton. “I think when we looked back at the season, that was one thing that I discussed with those guys.
 
“The next step for us is to get better by having them do less, play less.”
 
Houston Griffith, Donte Vaughn and TaRiq Bracy are other defensive backs battling in the rotation at corner; Hamilton along with Shaun Crawford give the Irish potentially remarkable depth and versatility at safety.
 
“Recruiting takes a big step in that, getting some guys in here who we feel like we can develop and grow and get them 20, 30 plays a week,” Joseph said. “Then in October, November, December, January you can have a group of guys that can play at a high level.
 
“So it’s exciting to have more pieces and the players are fresher and the competition is better and the overall morale is a lot better.”

 
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