INDIANAPOLIS – For most players coaches and executives fulfilling media obligations at the NFL scouting combine, hearing a league employee say "last question" is something of a relief. For KeiVarea Russell, those words came too soon.
"Nah, I'll give 'em a couple more," Russell said with a grin. "You know I like this, man."
For Russell, a cornerback from Everett who went on to play at Notre Dame, there is too much to talk about and not enough time at this year's combine. The Mariner High School grad is recovering from a broken leg, so he won't run or jump at the combine, saving that for Notre Dame's pro day in late March, but he will talk, whether to teams or to the media, about what went well for him at Notre Dame, what didn't, and why he can be the best cornerback in this draft.
"Overall, I don't think there's anyone better than me athletically and understanding the game," Russell said. "That's where I'm selling myself now because I'm not performing until my pro day, so my big selling point is I think I'm the smartest one here. A lot of my interviews here, I think all the scouts have been impressed with the knowledge of the game I have. I give a lot of credit to my coaches at Notre Dame."
So no, Russell isn't shy, but he has been humbled. After winning a starting job as a true freshman and earning freshman All-American honors, and after being a starter the next season as well, Russell appeared to be on the fast track to stardom and eventual NFL riches, but an honor code violation caused him to be suspended for the entire 2014 season. Russell returned home to Everett, enrolled at Everett Community College and was determined to turn that serious setback into a positive.
"It was definitely a learning experience, but it was something I really cherished because I took advantage of the time away," Russell said. "I got a job in real estate. I'd never had a job in my life, but I'd also never had a lot of money in my life either. So if I would have left last year (for the NFL), I'd have been going into a six-figure, seven-figure job not knowing anything about money. So when I got suspended, I took advantage of that time to learn about money—let's learn about assets, what's depreciation, let's learn about how money operates. That really helped me with that suspension to take that internship in real estate. I also was still going to school full time and training six days a week, so for me, I turned it into a positive."
Russell could have transferred to a lower-division school and played immediately, or even taken his chances in the 2015 draft, but he felt like he had unfinished business at Notre Dame. That same desire to finish things out right with the Irish led to him playing through a stress fracture for most of last season before his tibia finally broke, ending his season.
"That was extremely important," he said. "That's also why I didn't sit out (with a stress fracture). Even though there were games I probably should have sat out as far as the pain I was in with my tibia, but I told the guy, 'I already missed a year, I can't sit out.' The only reason I sat out is because I eventually broke it… To me it was important to come back to make a statement that I'm someone who holds himself accountable for his actions, whether they're good or bad, and he's going to make it right no matter what it is."
And that statement didn't go unnoticed by his teammates.
"It shows his resilience just as a person, not just a football player, you know, because he could have just chose to sit out or go to the NFL or go somewhere else," Notre Dame Elijah Shumate said. "But him just sticking it out working real hard to get back there coming back to Notre Dame and finish his degree and finish what we started after almost getting the national championship his freshman year just talks about him as a person. I feel everything he has done for the team is just him just working hard and doing what he got to do to be the best player he can be for the team and for himself.''
It's hard to project where Russell will land in the draft given his unusual college career and recent injury, but while he won't work out for teams until he can "make sure I give them the 100 percent KeiVarae," Russell does plan on making the most of his time at the combine.
"For me it's been a lot of mental, trying to show these guys I'm the best one mentally as understanding the scheme, understanding defenses, understanding offenses and just mentally ready for the game. I think I am the best one here out of all the corners, (Notre Dame defensive coordinator) Brian VanGorder really helped me out with all the NFL schemes we threw at other teams. I learned a lot from him."
With the 2017 NFL Combine underway, take a look back at some current Seahawks at their own NFL Combines.