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Slaughter leads despite season-ending injury

Mike Monaco | Thursday, November 15, 2012

It all started with his mother, and it’s been a family affair ever since.

Roughly six years ago and 700 miles away, Debbie Garrett convinced her son, Irish graduate student safety Jamoris Slaughter, to consider attending Notre Dame.
Slaughter, a native of Stone Mountain, Ga., had focused on southern schools during his recruitment until Garrett floated out an idea that he had yet to entertain.

“I could put all that solely on my mom,” Slaughter said of ending up at Notre Dame. “I didn’t know much about Notre Dame. I was SEC-bred and all I thought about was the SEC and all those southern teams but my mom was the one who always cared about education. She always wanted me and my little brother to strive to do better and always reach our potential.

“When I took the visit to Notre Dame I just saw all the opportunities educationally for me and my future and my family. I just thought it was a great situation that you could play football and go to a great university and kill two birds with one stone.”

Slaughter, ranked as the 86th-best recruit in the class of 2008 by ESPN, committed to the Irish in June 2007 at his mother’s behest. The 6-foot, 200-pound defensive back joined a secondary stocked with future NFL talent, including defensive backs Raeshon McNeil, Terrail Lambert, Robert Blanton, Sergio Brown, David Bruton,

Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith. Slaughter credited the upperclassmen with serving as his “big brothers” while he adjusted to the collegiate level.

“Raeshon McNeil [was a big brother to me],” Slaughter said. “He played corner when I first came in. He was a really smart guy. He really understood football and the defense. I think when you come out of high school you don’t really understand football on the college level so he was a major factor. And Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton [also helped] as well. They all played [defensive back] so I was always hanging around them and they always showed me the ropes.”

Slaughter used his freshman campaign to learn from his upperclassmen brothers as he redshirted. In 2009, Slaughter appeared in all 12 games as a sophomore for the Irish and tallied 14 tackles. As a junior in 2010 under first-year coach Brian Kelly, Slaughter transitioned to safety and made five starts in the secondary.

Slaughter played in all 13 games as a senior last season, making 10 starts. In the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State, the hard-hitting Slaughter moved into a hybrid outside linebacker role in which he excelled, racking up five tackles and the first two sacks of his career against the Seminoles.

Slaughter said he has been comfortable shifting around the defensive lineup as long as he is still a playmaker.

“My mindset when I was asked to play different positions – and at first I just wanted to play safety – is sometimes when you’re asked to do something I look at it as a challenge, like ‘Can I do that?'” Slaughter said. “And I just went all in and I really put in the time and the study to understand the positions that I had to play, because I played numerous positions last year. It just all started to make sense for me and I just wanted to make plays.”

The versatile defender was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA on March 20 and was expected to lead a youthful secondary in 2012 that was green after the graduations of Blanton, Smith and cornerback Gary Gray. But Slaughter’s time as the on-field leader of the young secondary was short-lived.

Slaughter tore his Achilles tendon on the first play of the second half of Notre Dame’s 20-3 victory over Michigan State on Sept. 15. The injury required surgery and ended Slaughter’s season in shocking fashion.

“It’s real hard to deal with,” Slaughter said of the injury. “I’ve been trying to stay positive and look at things on the positive side because if you don’t it will drive you crazy. I really just have been thinking about everything I have to do to get back and that’s really just carried me through this whole season. I’ve still had a smile on my face and helped out the younger guys. My knowledge and my assistance can really help them out and it’s been showing on the field.”

The young secondary has benefited from Slaughter’s coaching expertise. Along with senior safety Zeke Motta, junior cornerback Bennett Jackson, sophomore safety Matthias Farley and freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell have powered a defensive backfield that is ranked 11th in the nation in passing efficiency defense. Slaughter said he has made it a point to stay involved with the secondary.

“I still watch film with Matthias and Zeke and still coach up the younger guys like I’m still out there on the field,” Slaughter said. “They really appreciate that because at first when I got hurt I just wanted to shut down. I didn’t want to do anything because it was just a shock to me that I got an injury and I knew I was going to be out for the whole year. But it was something that I told myself I was going to keep doing because I knew it was one of the right things to do.”

Slaughter, as he has become the elder statesman of the secondary from the sidelines, said he thinks he has especially helped the younger players, just as former teammates like McNeil, McCarthy and Bruton advised him.

“I always want to see the success of my teammates, especially the young guys,” Slaughter said. “I remember when I came in, when you’ve got somebody older than you that understands and has been through what you’ve been through and they can sit and talk to you and help you understand things, it shows they really care and it really helps. So I think with me doing that with the younger guys they really appreciate that. They always say ‘Thanks Slaughter’ for helping with me out with this or that.”

Slaughter has taken an especially keen interest in mentoring the rookie Russell, who has thrived as a starter since converting from running back to cornerback.  

“I look at him as my little brother and he looks at me like I’m the big brother,” Slaughter said of their relationship. “When he first got in, he played [running back] and switched to [defensive back] and now he’s starting. That’s crazy. I’m thinking when I was a freshman I was all nervous and he has the poise of a senior so I think he’s going to be a great player. As time goes by he’s going to get better each year.”

Slaughter may end up playing alongside Russell once more. The safety has applied to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and is awaiting a decision.

“I’m just waiting for the word,” Slaughter said. “If I get the sixth [year], I probably will come back and if not I’ll be trying to get to the NFL.”
Slaughter said he knows the injury has hampered his NFL prospects, but he is willing to put in the hard work to achieve his longtime dream.

“The thing with me is I knew if I stayed healthy I knew I would get [to the NFL],” Slaughter said. “It wasn’t about making plays or anything. I knew if I stayed healthy, I’d be fine. When I took that injury this year it kind of set me back but I’m a very hard worker and when it comes to something I want, I always put in the time and the hours. So don’t count me out yet.”

Whenever Slaughter does make the leap to the professional ranks, he will be doing it with a new perspective on earning a living. On March 19, Slaughter’s girlfriend Jasmine Torres gave birth to Santana Ryan Slaughter. With roughly eight months under his belt as a father, Slaughter has learned how to lead a family different than the Irish secondary.

“[Santana’s birth] has definitely brought a lot of things in perspective just about life in general, about family,” Slaughter said. “When you’ve got somebody that depends on you for everything, you really have to think about the decisions you make and how it could affect you or your family. So it’s definitely made me into a better man.”
Slaughter said his son’s birth has also made him a better teammate, as he leads his younger teammates as a father figure and an older brother.

“I’ve always cared about my teammates, but I feel like when you have a son – I know a lot of people don’t have kids in college – it just turns a switch on inside you and makes you care about things a little bit more,” Slaughter said.

Contact Mike Monaco at     jmonaco@nd.edu