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Football: Safety first

Jack Hefferon | Thursday, April 4, 2013

Last year, Matthias Farley was just a wide receiver who liked to hit people. But after a frenetic season in which he was switched to defense and thrusted into a starting role, the junior is now the most seasoned safety on the Irish roster.

And while Farley described himself as “lost” in the secondary last year, he’s now found himself as a leader of the unit.

“Last year this was all new for me after switching over from offense,” Farley said. “I remember being really lost, but taking advice from [my coaches] and [graduated safeties] Jamoris [Slaughter] and Zeke [Motta], and that really helped me along. We continue to have that ‘next man in’ philosophy, and have guys ready to step up.”

Slaughter and Motta’s departure left a hole next to Farley that a host of players are vying to fill, including senior Austin Collinsworth, junior Eilar Hardy, and sophomores Elijah Shumate, Nicky Baratti and John Turner. Just as the departing seniors helped guide Farley through his learning curve last season, Farley is leading the way for his teammates this season.

“Matthias is a really good leader,” Collinsworth said. “He knows a lot about the defensive backfield, so he’s done a great job both in coaching up guys and really leading from the front.”

Farley, who started 11 games last season, said gaining some experience and seniority has caused him to step more to the forefront, both on the field and in team discussions.

“I knew I had to step up and make sure I was even more accountable, knowing that I’d have that different role this year,” he said. “For me, a lot of it is just being more vocal. Last year I was trying to learn everything and not saying too much, but this year I’ve been more vocal and communicative and tried to be a leader in that way as well.”

That communication will be key as the new safety pairings try to build chemistry with one another. Motta started all 13 games last season, meaning Farley and the other safeties are all trying to get used to each other’s playing styles.

“It’s an adjustment at first, because I was used to being lined up beside Zeke, but that was last year,” Farley said. “So now we’re building that bond and that clear line of communication with whoever it might be at the other safety spot.”

That competition will continue to rage throughout the spring and into the fall, though, as every player in the running wants the chance to be the next Farley to burst onto the scene.

“It’s always a fight at this level, but the competition is fun,” Collinsworth said. “We’ve always got good guys back there, and we’re always going to be competing. Regardless of whether I’m a one, two or three, I’m always going to be fighting the same.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu