One Who Got Away: KeiVarae Russell

A high school star at Everett (Wash.) Mariner, KeiVarae Russell chose Notre Dame over the hometown Huskies, and the freshman cornerback has been starting for the Irish. Tom Hauck for ESPN.com

KeiVarae Russell sat at a table in the Everett (Wash.) Mariner gym. It was a few days after Christmas, and the common thought was the three-star prospect’s college announcement would be a late gift for Washington.

There were four hats on the table -- Notre Dame, Washington, USC and Cal -- and just when it looked like the recruit was about to pick up a purple-and-gold Huskies hat, the lights went out.

In the dark, the Notre Dame fight song was piped through the gym’s speakers and, when the lights clicked on, Russell wore a white hat with the Irish’s “ND” logo on the front.

At that moment, the Huskies lost out on one of the top in-state prospects in 2012. They made a late push with Russell but, in the end, he decided he wanted to leave his home state.

“I wanted to experience something new, get out of my comfort zone, and Seattle's kind of my comfort zone,” said Russell, not long before signing day. “It will be a new experience for me, basically, a chance to experience life. That's what college is all about, life-changing experiences.”

Evaluated as a running back coming out of high school, Notre Dame moved Russell to cornerback. The position switch has worked out well for the freshman. He has started all nine games and is No. 5 on the team in tackles with 43 -- two for loss.

He has become an important part of Irish’s secondary. He never lacked confidence in high school, which has helped him develop into a starter for the program ranked No. 4 in the nation.

Washington landed a pair of cornerbacks in its 2012 class -- Brandon Beaver and Cleveland Wallace -- and redshirt freshman Marcus Peters has shown signs that point toward a very successful career. The Huskies have the players in their program to ease the loss of an in-state standout.

However, with a finite number of blue-chip prospects coming out of Washington, it hurts the Huskies when the state’s top talent escapes.