Notre Dame football: Redfield moves past frustration

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Max Redfield’s candor quickly overran his media training when the topic of USC came up Tuesday after practice.

“I want to say it’s just another game,” the Notre Dame freshman safety and one-time USC commit admitted.

But he didn’t. Then again, the trajectory the Mission Viejo, Calif., product has been traveling for the first half of the Irish football season would project him more bystander than baller when ND (4-2) restarts the season Oct. 19 against the Trojans (3-2) after this weekend’s open date.

His status as Notre Dame’s fourth safety in a system that heavily utilizes three has left the only five-star safety the Irish have signed in the Rivals.com era (2002-present) with two tackles in the five games in which he’s seen action — both coming on special teams.

“It’s humbling,” the 6-foot-1, 194-pounder said. “You’re not the best player out there — just understand that. It’s been frustrating at times, when you want to play at a higher level and be in a better spot obviously. But I’m learning a lot, and I’m in the position where I should be.”

Redfield’s original vision not only had him heavier in the safety mix, but playing wide receiver part time and then possibly helping coach Mike Brey’s Irish men’s basketball team starting sometime in January.

He was, after all, an expert multi-tasker at Mission Viejo High, helping his hoops team to a 24-3 record and serving as a top-level 400-meter man for the track team (49.27 seconds) — both while playing on two sore ankles he had injured during his senior football season.

Redfield had played four sports his freshman year, but reluctantly gave up soccer — the sport his mom, Kathy Mora, played collegiately at UConn and aunt Joy Fawcett played at an Olympic and World Cup level. Then he took up swimming just before he arrived at ND in mid-June to improve his cardio.

Cardio, though, was never a problem at ND. A deep well of coverages and alignments, which Redfield’s position must direct, was where the culture shock hit and hit hard.

“I walked in (confident) at first,” he said. “After the first week, it was kind of a wake-up call. You don’t know everything. You don’t know what we’re doing. You’re going to have to really start at ground zero and work your way up from there, and that’s what it’s been so far.

“You have to know what the linebackers are doing. You have to let the corners know what you’re doing, so they know what they’re doing. It’s kind of a whole unison thing that you need to experience in the game and then in practice on a consistent basis to become fluent at it and be able to perform the best you can.”

Lately, though, Redfield has seen a shift in his level of understanding. And he says he gets a lot of help with that from ND’s core safeties — senior Austin Collinsworth, sophomore Elijah Shumate and junior Matthias Farley.

“You don’t have as much intimate time with the coaches, where you can sit down with them and say, ‘Coach I don’t understand this defense.’ ”

He does touch base, though, with his coach back at Mission Viejo High, Bob Johnson, whose son, Rob, played quarterback in the NFL for close to a decade.

“Pretty much what he’s telling me, it’s a process,” Redfield said. “You’re not going to come out there and be the best. You know that, and you need to understand that. And you can’t get down on yourself. You’ve just got to take it in stride and kind of try to get better.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who has praised Redfield’s progress all along, has set aside extra periods in practice this week to help the inexperienced and/or inconsistent players on the Irish roster smooth the rough edges and perhaps push for larger roles.

“The bye week is critical for me,” Redfield said, “to keep growing and get the little things down that I need to get down to play in a game, perform and actually make an impact.”

Smith’s legacy

Former South Bend Clay High star Daniel Smith’s statistical impact at Notre Dame was mitigated by a string of injuries, the final one a broken ankle that occurred Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, truncating his senior season.

The 6-foot-4, 213-pound wide receiver suffered the injury during the first half of ND’s 37-34 victory over then-No. 22 Arizona State at AT&T Stadium. He is expected to undergo surgery once the swelling is manageable.

“We mentioned Danny at halftime, and there was a lot of emotion in the locker room,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “You know, I usually don't use a win one for the Gipper talk, and I don't want to equate it in those terms, but generally speaking, we talked about losing Danny and in particular that he probably wasn't going to play again.

“There was a lot of emotion in the locker room, because they love Danny Smith and what he's done for our program as a dedicated player for Notre Dame. He loves Notre Dame, and we've seen him grow as a person and as a player and he's going to be sorely missed.”

Smith will finish his career with eight catches for 56 yards (one for nine yards this season), three special teams tackles and a fumble recovery in 28 career games, six of them starts.

“I would say that his impact is a local player that was on a 12-0, undefeated regular season team (in 2012), and he's left an impact on our younger receivers as to how to work every single day and how to handle himself both on and off the field.”

Notre Dame's Max Redfield talks to Erin Gregoire 8, and her brother Mike, 5, during a charity event for Uplifting Athletes at Strikes and Spares this summer.